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Opening the borders of political discourse

As the oldest child of an immigrant father that grew up in a densely conservative area, I’ve grown to have a fair understanding of the polarizing opinions regarding immigration. Up until college, however, my political involvement was minimal — to say the least.

With an increasingly intense election season around the corner, and immigration being an increasingly substantial contributor to the tension, I felt it would be worth my while to attend the debate on the issue between some of the political student organizations on campus.

After making the trek to Mitchell Hall on Thursday night, I entered room 102 and took a seat almost exactly in the middle of the audience. Before the start of the debate, the environment was immoderately casual, displayed by the cheerful chatter among the participants and audience alike.

Promptly at 7:30 p.m., as advertised, all in the room settled down to begin the debate. The moderators took up the podium to the far left, while the student organizations set themselves up at each of the three tables at the front of the room. Despite the mellow ambiance just minutes before, the participants gathered an abundance of notes, and the room radiated a feeling of seriousness.

From left to right sat the College Democrats, represented by Jules Gorman and Colin Pettit, the Students for Liberty, represented by Alex Habbart and Chris McEachron, and the College Republicans, represented by William Horstmann and Christopher Barns.

Samantha Dolin, president of the College Democrats, began the debate as moderator, explaining the proceedings of the event for the evening. Of the six questions asked of participants, four were preselected, and two were crowd-sourced during the intermission. For each question, the clubs were given three minutes for their respective opening statements preceding an eight-minute period of free debate.

Though each group laid out their points articulately, it did not take long to identify the main contributors.

In the debate for the first question, which asked about the prospect of open borders, Habbart and Barns led a lively conversation for a majority of the eight minutes. As they volleyed an analogy between locking the borders and locking one’s front door back and forth, the College Democrats gave physical cues of wanting to interject, raising their hands and leaning into the conversation, but were only able to add a quick comparison between the northern and southern borders.

“I felt like they were getting a little heated, and we lost the opportunity to speak a few times. I do wish that we maybe had 10 minutes for a debate rather than eight,” Gorman later stated. “There were certain times where I felt like I wanted to participate and was being overpowered by the other two groups.”

I was fortunate to encounter an opportunity to get involved through an issue I am connected to. After the debate, not only did I feel active and informed in the political climate, I felt integrated into another group of students on campus.

As a moderator, Dolin felt “it’s partly their [the College Democrats] fault for not speaking up more” and that “people should be accountable for voicing their own opinions.”

Meanwhile, Habbart couldn’t be more complimentary of the event, stating, “I think it was good. I think everyone had a fair amount of time to say what they needed to say for their opening statements. The debate was definitely lively. I liked having eight minutes for debate, for sure. That was definitely a sizable amount of time.”

Horstmann and Barns similarly shared positive sentiment towards the event as a whole, making note of how well structured and respectful it felt throughout the two hours. The discussions with the Students of Liberty, avid as they were, consisted of consideration for the points being made by the opposing opinion.

Spirited exchanges between the Students for Liberty and College Republicans featured more often than not. As the dialogue migrated from the separation of families at the border to the relevance of the 14th Amendment, the passion in the voices of the speakers grew more and more tangible.

“It was very lively,” Habbart said. “People came at it from different directions. There was a lot of agreement between us and the Democrats, but we, I think, took it a bit further, and it was generally us two against the Republicans.”

Moderating duties were transferred to Students for Liberty President Brian Halton following the break halfway through the questions. This change made little to no noticeable difference to the keen nature of the conversations. The audience even started to provide visceral reactions in response to the entertaining back and forth on the relationship between crime rates of citizens and non-citizens.

Jonathan Kline, a third-year English major, was among those in the crowd who yielded reactions throughout the debate. “I really never heard the argument for open borders before, so I thought that was pretty interesting,” Kline commented, as he relayed what resonated with him from the night. “I found I agreed and disagreed with a little bit of what everybody said. I just liked hearing the various opinions.”

Events like this debate cater to emboldening students and their input on politics. As evident from the debate, even with determined titles of “republicans” or “democrats,” civil discussion on politics is more than possible among students on campus.

Horstmann, President of the College Republicans, affirmed that “political discourse is one of the most important things that college campuses need, and it’s also something that is lacking on college campuses.” He continued to explain that the groups involved are working “to let political discourse have its way on campus.”

The debate wrapped up after the sixth question to a rousing applause from the audience, coupled with handshakes and greetings between the participants of the debate. In no time, the tense atmosphere was dissipated by the return of comforting nonchalance that greeted me on the way in. It felt like everyone went back to just being students.

The debate exclusively featured students, from beginning to end. The maturity with which everything was handled wouldn’t have suggested so, which speaks to how the younger political demographics are more than capable of contributing coherently to the political climate we find ourselves in.

I was fortunate to encounter an opportunity to get involved through an issue I am connected to. After the debate, not only did I feel active and informed in the political climate, I felt integrated into another group of students on campus. For those seeking a way to get involved and ignite their civic duty, events like these provide the ideal balance of conflict and camaraderie. Information for each of the clubs involved can be found on RamConnect.

Sebastian Oliveira is a student majoring in communications with a minor in journalism. SO885550@wcupa.edu

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