What’s at stake this election? Students debate and decide

Erin Haussman, Staff Writer

In the wake of the third and final presidential debate, the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) hosted a student debate on Oct. 20 in the ELC Forum. The event featured a panel reflecting a “wide variety of students from a wide variety of perspectives,” according to BIPP Director and Associate Professor of Economics Amy Wolaver said.

The panelists spanned multiple student groups and consisted of volunteers representing Libertarian, Democratic, Republican, and far-left views. President John Bravman served as moderator and gave student panelists two minutes to respond to each question.  The event conveyed the same energy and gravitas as an authentic presidential debate, albeit without the interruptions that characterized the three presidential debates in recent weeks.

Students in political engagement clubs and in political science classes submitted thought-provoking questions that were pertinent to the current election and political climate, although all students were allowed to submit questions. Questions were selected based on feedback from BIPP Student Fellows and faculty members, with the intent to choose issues that were most important to students.

The discussion was broken into three topics: social issues, foreign affairs, and domestic policy. Student panelists rotated out for each topic, and each section was allotted two questions.

Questions focused on real world issues and were of the same caliber as those featured in the 2016 presidential debates. The questions posed in the social issues section of the debate asked which qualities a Supreme Court justice filling the vacancy left by the late Antonin Scalia should have, and whether alternate methods exist to enforce gun control aside from universal background checks.

The issues of cybersecurity and the United States’ response to Russia’s involvement in classified American affairs were debated in the foreign policy section. Students also grappled with the question, “What is the single most important security issue the United States faces?”

Economic issues and climate change were brought into the domestic policy discussion. One question centered on government spending and national debt. Participants also explored the economic difficulties that accompany the government’s and the private sector’s incentives to reduce environmentally damaging practices.

Despite the controversial nature of the issues discussed, representatives were able to prove that issues are never two-sided, and nuances always exist.

Within these contentious topics, there were even “instances of bipartisanship, where the ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ on the panel agreed with one another,” Wolaver said.

“I thought it went really well. Students submitted excellent questions through BIPP, and I thought the responses were equally as thoughtful. What was really surprising was the overlap on some of the issues,” BIPP Student Fellow Zachary Krivine ’18 said.

“I believe that we showed that not only can we hold our own in debates, we can actually engage in civil, respectful dialogue on the important issues facing America and her future,” Brady Clapp ’17 said.

Clapp also commented on his hopes that BIPP will continue holding events like this in the future, especially a true back-and-forth style debate.

“[The] panel gives me hope for the future in this political environment,” Bravman said in his closing remarks.

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