NAU’s Young Democrats and College Republicans battled it out in a heated debate regarding topics such as climate change, race relations and education. Thursday evening, NAU students and staff gathered in a small lecture hall in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Castro building to witness what was deemed the Great Student Debate presented by Pi Sigma Alpha and the Political Society of Northern Arizona.
The debate started when freshman Shon Nagel with the Young Democrats and junior Mackenzie Kirby with the College Republicans discussed issues surrounding climate change. Initially, the democrat and republican sides agreed on most issues, including the need to end Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort’s use of reclaimed water to extend the winter season. However, the two parties disagreed when asked who should be responsible for reducing carbon output, specifically conflicting over individuals or companies.
Nagel began his argument by stating that green guilt — defined as feelings of guilt that one should be doing more to help save the environment — is placed on individuals by companies to make them feel personally responsible for pollution. He said that in reality, corporations are the ones causing massive and unacceptable pollution and should be held responsible for reducing it.
Kirby refuted this claim, agreeing with the republican side that the responsibility lies more with the individual.
“At the end of the day, we’re demanding their goods so we are equally as guilty, if not more,” Kirby said. “[Through] supply and demand, we’re demanding plastic containers, plastic forks and they’re supplying it. If you want to see change, it’s going to happen at the individual level.”
After a brief intermission, the debate continued with the topic of race relations when junior Brenden Nolan represented the republicans and freshman Jacob Carter represented the democrats. The two debated topics regarding problems within the Native American community and police brutality. Both sides agreed that having Native Americans as mascots is wrong and teaching indigenous history in schools is important.
A standout topic from this section of the debate was the varying stances on Affirmative Action, which was a concept coined by former President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Over the years, Affirmative Action has increased the representation of both women and minority groups in different employment fields. Additionally, since the '60s, various executive orders and Supreme Court rulings have reinforced these principles.
Nolan began his argument by stating that Affirmative Action is difficult, mainly because it is much easier to enact in certain groups than others. He said it is difficult to pinpoint how a minority group has been affected by history, which makes it difficult to justify the use of Affirmative Action.
Carter refuted this point, stating that all minority groups are affected by their histories and backgrounds. Carter explained that for this reason, Affirmative Action is important in creating more representation in schools and workplaces. He also mentioned the irony of the situation.
“Why are we, as white people, even up here talking about Affirmative Action?" Carter asked. "[It's] because there’s not enough representation."
The last portion of the debate, which focused on education, was spearheaded by Keri Huber of the republicans and Carter, who once again represented the democrats. While it was not free of rebuttals, this section of the debate was perhaps the most cohesive of the three, with the democratic and republican sides agreeing on almost every question.
Both sides concurred about the importance of reducing the stigma around mental health in schools through the implementation of more counselors, as well as training teachers to recognize the signs of mental illness in students. In addition to this discourse, both parties agreed that it is vital to include LGBTQ+ topics in school sex education.
Following the final portion of the debate, during which both parties answered audience questions, attendee Allie Coldwell shared her thoughts regarding the night’s debate.
“It's interesting to see the radically different thoughts on each party’s side,” Coldwell said. “I’ve never been to a debate before and I’m intrigued by the different approaches each side has to every issue.”
Although there were moments when the parties intensely disagreed, each section of the debate was concluded with a handshake between sides. In the end, both parties must work together to solve the very issues being debated, as was mentioned during the event.