Written by Emily Lang.
Images by Emily Lang.
The Atlantic article titled “The Liberal Millennial Revolution” states that Millennials now comprise the same proportion of eligible voters as the Baby Boomer generation. In today’s volatile political climate, it is more important than ever to not only vote, but to be an informed voter.
Political entertainment programs like The Colbert Report (R.I.P.) and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver provide witty, left-leaning information for engaged liberals, while The Rush Limbaugh Show and Tomi Lahren, a politically conservative news commentator and online video host, provide the same for their conservative counterparts.
However, neatly wrapped sound bites handed to us by a biased media allows like-minded students to band together and remain comfortable in their echo chamber of beliefs.
As we saw recently with the Young Conservatives of Texas’s Affirmative Action bake sale, controversial topics are often discussed in a way that is more divisive than encouraging of productive discussion. Instead of civilly explaining their opinions to the opposite side, most students gravitated to like-minded comrades and shouted their beliefs into iPhone cameras. The most repeated ideas were sensationalized claims that likely originated from someone’s uncle, Twitter account, or another polarized group discussion.
This environment does not ensure that students are examining all of the facts and options out there, but rather, encourages them to do the opposite.
As ideologically diverse as UT students are, there is a disappointing lack of forums for passionate yet civil discussion. While the University Democrats and College Republicans at Texas represent much of the student body, there are other partisan organizations whose events can become uncivil and aggressive, as evidenced by the YCT bake sale.
There is a striking lack of options for students seeking courteous and informed discourse.
The Texas Political Union, a noncompetitive debate organization new to campus, is excited to fill this void. TPU was founded by Daniel Orr and Josh Armstrong, students who are experienced in debate and Texas natives themselves. The organization strives to unite UT students in lively, respectful debate, with the goal that each attendee will leave more confident and informed than they came.
A common roadblock to open, political discourse on campus is the worry that inflammatory issues might alienate friends; this anxiety can prevent students from asking the important questions.
“All too often, we simply decide not to have the conversations that we worry will divide us, losing any common ground we might have found along the way. The Texas Political Union wants this to change,” Armstrong explained.
Open debates are held weekly. All students are encouraged to attend, regardless of political alignment. The debates are formatted to present as many diverse voices as possible, with multiple speakers advocating for each side of a resolution.
Past topics of discussion include the value of higher education and morality’s place in foreign policy, both of which sparked passionate arguments from the audience.
Orr pointed out that while UT is regarded as one of the top public universities in the nation, we are simply not on the level of truly politically active campuses. The Texas Political Union expects to help change this.
“We’re here to give UT something it’s been missing – so far as we know, we’re the only nonpartisan, noncompetitive debate society on campus,” Armstrong emphasized.
The Texas Political Union is particularly salient for students in the College of Liberal Arts. Many liberal arts courses are focused on dissecting the past, or they are intended to be swallowed by all students.
For example, all Liberal Arts students are required to take standard history and English courses, with slight variations. These “one-size-fits-all” surveys can result in less-informed, less creative discussion, occasionally glossing over the severity of problems our country has faced.
Instead, TPU offers candid conversations about intricate issues that may ultimately be solved by our peers or ourselves.
Our motto, “What starts here changes the world,” is perfectly embodied by TPU’s mission. As Armstrong stated, the Texas Political Union “hopes to leave a mark on the political discourse on campus, all the while cultivating the leaders of tomorrow.”