Student political organizations debate major issues

Leaders from the University’s Democratic and Republican registered student organizations stood before a crowd of about 40 students discussing various timely issues.

Students gathered at the ARC on Monday night to watch members of Illini Democrats and College Republicans at UIUC debate on issues including gun control, the Syrian civil war, privacy and the government, healthcare, student loans and immigration.

The debate was moderated by the Political Science Club and sponsored by the local chapter of Restore Our Principles, a student-run conservative non-profit organization. Christiaan Burner, president of College Republicans and junior in finance, organized and proposed the event.

College Republicans Vice-President Max Balkan, a junior in Business, said the debate helps bring issues to the forefront and allows the two organizations to speak to a broader audience.

“I think it can be a new form of engagement … It brings the issues up so you see people actually having the competitive nature,” Balkan said. “For example, (Illini Democrat) meetings are all pretty much Democrats focusing on those issues, and College Republican meetings are pretty much all Republicans focusing on those issues and there’s general agreement. You can actually see some clash in this debate and hopefully actually address some of the more basic issues.”

Owen Marsden, president of Illini Democrats, agreed that student-run debates helped to “highlight the contrast between the two political parties” and have more student participation in politics.

Moderator David Elfman, senior in finance, said that most of the topics were chosen because of their prevalence in the news lately, such as the Navy Yard shooting and the recent events in Syria.

Students in attendance came to the event to hear more about both foreign and domestic issues.

Alex Massey, junior in LAS, interns for George Gollin, a University physics professor who announced his intent to run for Congress in July. He said he was curious to gauge how college politics compared to real-world politics.

“Hearing about the current developments in Syria may be interesting, and what’s going on with Obamacare and the government shutdown,” he said.

The two organizations agreed on topics like privacy and the government, in which both speakers agreed that more transparency in such programs would be beneficial. They also agreed on the idea of exhausting diplomatic channels in Syria before taking action. Other similarities included their views on immigration and student loans.

The issue of healthcare, which was introduced by Political Science Club president Neha Nigam, senior in LAS, as “the most topical and divisive” issue, demonstrated the clash between the two organizations, but one University student said the debate helped him formulate his own opinions.

“I wanted to find out what the arguments are, what the hot topics are right now, and keep an open mind to see what both sides have to say,” said Jared Bowman, sophomore in Business. “You can’t make up your mind unless you know both sides.”

Eleanor can be reached at [email protected]