Debate Union, ACT foster student discussions on war

With the chance of a war between the United States and Iraq quickly becoming more probable, many students are voicing their opinions on the proposed military action in public forums, including an anti-war rally in New York City and a student debate series being held by the Williams College Debate Union (WCDU).

On Saturday, 35 Williams students traveled on a train arranged by the Anti-war Community Taskforce (ACT) to New York City to participate in the protest. Sponsored by United for Peace and Justice, the protest aimed to halt a potential United States war with Iraq and drew hundreds of thousands of supporters.

The protest was timed to coincide with numerous other anti-war demonstrations across the globe, which involved an estimated 10 million people worldwide. In Williamstown, one such demonstration was organized by the newly formed Northern Berkshire Peace Group. Students who were unable to attend the protest in New York City on Saturday were still able to show their support for a peaceful resolution with the Iraqi conflict by attending the silent vigil held by the group at Field Park, in front of the Williams Inn.

According to the United for Peace and Justice, “Students and youth from around the world continue to be the most creative, dynamic and energetic activists working to stop the war on Iraq.”

Brigitte Teissedre ’03, the president of ACT, further explained the significance of student participation in these protests: “Anyone who ever participated in a protest would know how powerful a feeling it truly is,” she said. “I think that it is especially important for the anti-war students in the Purple Bubble that we do not stand alone in our fight against this war. Marching with 100,000 people strengthens the solidarity of the anti-war movement.”

ACT hopes that students who attended this weekend’s protest will return to campus and facilitate discussion amongst the student body about the possible implications of a war with Iraq.

“Williams students who experience the movement first hand will hopefully share it with others on campus who could not make it to New York,” Teissedre said. “We hope that this will instigate more dialogue among the students and that simple question of ‘what did you do this weekend?’ will turn into an open discussion about war in Iraq.”

With the same purpose of encouraging

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more student dialogue about the United States’ potential war with Iraq, the WCDU has organized a student debate entitled, “This House Would Invade Iraq.” The debate will be held Tuesday, Feb. 18, in Griffin 6 at 8 p.m., and will be the first in a series of weekly, all-student debates organized by the WCDU.

Formerly, the WCDU featured only two prominent debates each year. Realizing that two debates could not address the many issues about which students on campus are passionate, the WCDU this year decided to hold a series of weekly student debates as a complement to their biannual debates.

“The Debate Union has always prided itself upon being one of the few groups on campus that exists to provide a neutral ground for the vetting of important issues,” said Joe Gallagher ’03, a member of the WCDU.

“However, with the strange combination of having both political polarization and political apathy on campus, we realized that just holding one debate each term, especially when that debate had invited speakers and not students as the primary attraction, simply was not enough. There are a lot of topics on this campus that people feel strongly about, and this gives them a chance to propose and defend their ideas more than is possible, say, in a rally of like-minded peers, or even in an editorial.”

Since the issue of Iraq has been weighing on the minds of many students lately, the WCDU decided it was an ideal subject for their first student debate. “There are a few reasons why Iraq is an important issue to debate,” Gallagher said. “The first, obviously, is that it is the most important news story out there right now, and there does not seem to be any ‘right answer’ as to what we should do. As a result, everyone has their own opinion as to what should or should not be done, and their reasons for holding that opinion.”

Gallagher continued by saying, “[W]e have not yet had an impartial forum where the students themselves can debate the issue head on – since it is something that such a large part of the student body cares deeply about, it seemed only logical to try to create such a forum.”

Although the topics for future debates are still tentative, the WCDU hopes to hold debates on issues such as the death penalty, active euthanasia, access to patented AIDS medications in the developing world and handgun control.

Unfortunately, lack of student participation threatens the success of the student debate series. “So far, we have had a hard time recruiting students to do the debates,” said Mike Pinkel ’03, a member of WCDU. “Lots of people probably think that someone else will do it. They have not so far. If this is going to work, we need student participation.”

The WCDU hopes that tonight’s debate on the topic of Iraq, which features two students in favor of war and two against, will encourage discussion on the topic and perhaps even inspire other students to participate in future student debates.

“Our main goal is discourse,” Gallagher said. “We think that both sides in this debate have done a great job informing the campus of the issues, but we want to give the student body a chance to test the strength of those issues in a little intellectual combat.”