Political clubs go head-to-head at debate
Photo Courtesy of the Creative Commons.
A conglomerate of student political organizations participated in an open forum for discourse on the issues of gun control and prison reform on Wednesday, March 28 in the Plaza Room West of the David and Sondra S. Mack Student Center. The campus groups represented ran the gamut of the political spectrum, comprising of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), the Democrats of Hofstra University (DHU), the College Republicans and the Students for Liberty (SFL).
The debate, moderated by junior journalism major Gisela Factora, consisted of three rounds: one round debating gun control, another round debating prison reform and a final round answering audience questions. Factora asked three questions in each of the first two rounds, giving all four groups a limited chance to respond before allowing for time-constrained rebuttals, and all groups presented two speakers each round.
The importance of displaying a diverse array of opinions seemed to be on everyone’s minds. Senior history major, debate speaker and DHU President Jesse Saunders felt that if she had wanted to just air her opinions then she would have simply hosted a panel. “This is more valid, figuring out why we think differently,” Saunders explained. President of the College Republicans Chris Kostulias, a sophomore political science major, similarly said, “We think it’s important to create a forum for discussion … we think it’s important to break that kind of barrier.” Both Kostulias and Saunders wished to avoid “an echo chamber” hoping that the debate would allow for critical thought and an opportunity for students to reflect on their own stance.
YDSA member and debate speaker Robert Kinnaird, a freshman journalism major, said, “I am very glad that all four groups are present. … [Students] get pretty traditional arguments from the Republicans and Democrats. They’ll hear further-right and further-left ones from the Libertarians and Socialists, getting a new perspective.” SFL President Austin Van Schaick, a junior history and secondary education major and debate speaker, agreed. “I think it is fantastic that more clubs are getting represented because we need a lot more voices in the democratic process in this country.”
Responses to Factora’s first question highlighted the range of ideas participants had about the first topic. In response to “Should gun control apply to the police as well as the American people?” YDSA Co-Chair Anna Galperin, a freshman comparative literature/language and philosophy major, argued that it should. “The state disproportionately uses their guns [compared to citizens]. If gun control is going to be affecting civilians, there is no reason that the state should be exempt from that.”
The Democrats also advocated for the demilitarization of large-scale weaponry – and better training – although Saunders conceded, “In a perfect world, we would not need guns. The United States is not a perfect world.”
College Republicans Secretary and speaker Nick Zotto, a junior political science major, previously stated, “We understand the issues that are going on right now. However, we do believe that guns are part of the answer. If they are handled responsibly, they can help curtail violence.” In response to Factora’s query, he advocated in favor of giving law enforcement “what they need to protect themselves.”
During the first round, there came a moment when Van Schaick underscored the importance of citizens being able to protect themselves in the event that “the state becomes tyrannical … and drags you out of your house for tax evasion,” to which Kinnaird rebutted, “Pay your taxes.”
Sentiments surrounding prison reform were more aligned. On the topic of private prisons, Galperin said, “A prison system that profits inherently has its own interests in mind,” an opinion that the Democrats shared and the Libertarians were not expressly against. College Republicans debate speaker Adam Brownstein, a sophomore journalism and TV production major, stated that the Republican Party consisted of “a diversity of opinions” on the matter.
SFL Vice President and debate speaker Kenneth Mullen, a senior rhetoric major with a concentration in political communications major feels that there ought to be a line drawn for non-violent criminals’ place within the prison system. “Prison should be based on rehabilitation, and we should make a really keen mark between the violent and the non-violent.” Kinnaird and YDSA called for “the decriminalization of nonviolent crimes,” and praised “recovery over prison.” SFL President Van Schaick responded, “I agree with the socialists.”
Audience member Lizzie Frank, a freshman drama and creative writing major, enjoyed watching the debate, stating, “I thought it was nice to hear these conversations, have a moderator – who did a great job – and have a formal setting.” Janette Young, a freshman sustainability studies major, said, “It was very interesting to see the different people, how they responded to other people [and] how they reflected their beliefs.”
Kostulias’ goal for this event was to get students to “learn about the more nuanced positions that each club might hold, more than just ‘guns for everybody’ or ‘no guns at all.’ There’s more to it and I hope that they learn that.”