Berkeley College Republicans, Cal Berkeley Democrats face off in this year’s Great Debate

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Berkeley College Republicans and Cal Berkeley Democrats gathered in the Valley Life Sciences Building on Thursday evening for this year’s Great Debate, in which the two rival clubs presented their views on labor, foreign policy and higher education.

The Great Debate is a long-standing tradition in which the two groups come together to present a balanced representation of key current issues to students. Each side is given the chance to present an argument on a variety of topics and to respond to the other side.

“Both of us want the best policies that are going to help our nation,” said BCR President Kerida Moates. “It’s how we get there that we differentiate.”

The audience of about 100 people was split along partisan lines. The majority of audience members were Democratic supporters, but Republicans received support from students on both sides of the aisle, many of whom awarded the night’s best points with applause, regardless of party lines.

Against a national backdrop of polarizing party figures, the two campus clubs found common ground on some issues, such as the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis.

“These people are displaced through no fault of their own,” said Sebastian Pramanick, one of the two presenting BCR debaters. “The U.S. … can certainly help more than we are currently.”

Cal Dems and BCR members agreed that the United States should take in more refugees from Syria but disagreed on how to do so. While the Democratic side said the United States should lower restrictions on immigration, Republicans argued for allocating more resources toward immigration to make the process faster.

The debate featured two speakers from each club and was moderated by Ethan Rarick, associate director of the campus’s Institute of Governmental Studies. Both sides were limited to two minutes to make their case on each issue and were given an opportunity for rebuttal.

The planners of the event — leading members of both clubs — based their questions on open-ended issues that would lead to discussions of solutions from both sides, such as student loan debt in higher education. According to Cal Dems debater Marandah Field-Elliot, the Cal Dems would have liked to debate a question relating to women’s reproductive rights, but such a question did not make it into the debate.

Democrats pinned the blame for student loan debt on national government policy and suggested increasing taxes for corporations and using that revenue to reinvest in education. Republicans attributed the cause to administrative bloat on the part of schools, referencing increases in the numbers and pay of administrators at public colleges and putting pressure on school and loan companies themselves to reduce student debt.

“I think it was a really cool way to understand where each party is coming from (and) allow them to speak their minds in a structured place,” Field-Elliot said.

Contact Anderson Lanham at [email protected].