Raised voices, audience snickers, and poetry snaps could all be heard coming out of SMC 118 on Tuesday night.
Millersville’s College Democrats and College Republicans faced off in what was advertised as a “fair, honest debate,” where students and faculty were invited to listen to both sides of three debate topics pertaining to healthcare, poverty, and immigration. Each team had three active participants at any time, and the Republicans had a few others that they swapped out between each question.
Dr. Adam Lawrence, who is Millersville’s Associate Professor of Government & Political Affairs, was the host and moderator for the debate. He checked his watch until exactly 7:00 p.m. where he greeted the audience of about 40 people. He outlined the structure of the debate for the audience: for every topic, each team will be given a 3 minute opening statement, and then an 8 minute back-and-forth between the teams to further clarify their positions. Each topic was then concluded by 2-3 audience questions.
Dr. Lawrence started by saying that the debate was about the positions and proposing solutions to problems, and not the emotion or opinion behind those positions. He said that he was very impressed with the work that the students did for the debate as he gestured at all the talking points on the table that the teams had done research on.
Healthcare was the first topic to be discussed, and overall ended up being the most tame regarding audience reactions and interruptions of the teams. Each team stuck pretty much dead-center down traditional Republican/Democrat party lines on the issue.
Near the beginning of the discussion on poverty, things became more heated between the teams. At one point, an audience member was seemingly angered at the interruption by the Democrat team and shouted “let him finish his point.” After this, Dr. Lawrence paused the debate timer and addressed the crowd. He said that the debate was meant to be a civil event, and that the teams agreed to have no audience participation with the exceptions of the questions at the end of each segment. He said that if things got out of hand, and if someone from the audience wanted to interrupt, they could leave voluntarily or be escorted by the campus police.
The rest of the poverty section of the debate was relatively interruption free, with the exception of poetry snaps from some in the crowd whenever they deemed that the College Democrats made a good point. These “snaps” continued for the rest of the debate in the same fashion.
The teams again adhered pretty closely to standard party lines, and the discussion centered around minimum wage, Trump’s tax plan, and the necessity of a college degree to make a decent living.
The Democrats opened first for the discussion on immigration. Their beginning points were that DACA needs to be reenacted and expanded, and that the path to citizenship needs to be easier.
The Republicans’ opening had complications, however. One of their teams newly swapped in members opened and accused the national Democrat Party of “teaming up with Mexican nationals to influence our elections,” and that Bernie Sanders had thousands of illegal immigrants help with his campaign.
During this opening, someone from the back of the room said “that’s racist” and someone stormed out of the room. The Democrats interrupted the speaker, asking him what his source was to these accusations. The speaker did not name a source immediately, and continued trying to explain his point. The Democrats once again asked for the source of the facts for this accusation, and then an argument between the teams broke out.
After half a minute of the raised-voice arguing, Dr. Lawrence stepped in and said, “We are ending the debate unless in becomes civil. This is not a debate.” Angel Pagan, who is the president of the College Republicans, then stepped in. He took full responsibility for the upsetting position from his teammate and explained that he did not personally look over the opening statement beforehand. He took full responsibility for the disruption of the debate process and apologized to Dr. Lawrence.
The rest of the immigration discussion followed without any other interruptions. During the audience questions for this section, Mr. Pagan tried to “reach across the isle” to the Democrats by saying that he doesn’t have a problem with legal immigrants; he brought up the point that immigrant children often do better in schooling and academics than native born American children. The College Democrats agreed with the Republicans, saying, “[we’re] not going to fight you on that.”
The immigration section didn’t have any more complications, and the discussion was ended by Dr. Lawrence’s timer. The debate ended almost exactly at 8:30 p.m.