Pitt College Republicans and Democrats debate specifics, not rhetoric


Blaise Beebe, Andrew Zentgraf and Jordan Drischler, of Pitt College Republicans, took the round table to debate with Pitt College Democrats on Thursday Evening in Posvar Hall. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

By Tristan Dietrick / For The Pitt News

Days after Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump walked off the debate stage in New York, students gathered at Pitt to discuss this election’s most contentious issues.

More than 80 students showed up to watch the third annual debate between Pitt College Republicans and Pitt Democrats in 1700 Posvar Hall on Thursday night. Pitt’s Political Science Student Association hosted the event, which began at 9 p.m. and was moderated by “Pitt Tonight” host Jesse Irwin.

Although it’s been less than a week since the presidential debate, sophomore political science major Andrew Zentgraf, who debated on the Republican side, said there were no plans to endorse any particular candidate. Rather, the night was designed to give students a chance to talk about national political, economic and social issues.

“We’re here to talk about platforms, not candidates,” Zentgraf said. “[Campus Republicans’] platforms are not always represented by the way Trump acts.”

Three Republican debaters — Jordan Drischler, Blaise Beebe and Andrew Zentgraf –– faced off against three Democratic debaters –– Charlotte Goldbach, Josh Feder and Matt Stalford. Among the issues they discussed in the hour-long debate were veteran suicide prevention, student debt, police brutality, health care, foreign affairs and gun control.

The two sides clashed on student loan debt, an issue that directly affects many Pitt students.

Drischler –– a sophomore mechanical engineering major –– said while student debt is an issue, the high interest rates are partly due to the size of federal government and partly due to the nature of student loans.

“The federal government has created an enormous student loan bubble,” Drischler said. ““The reason interest rates are higher on student loans is because [banks] are risking the investment. They’re not investing in school[ing], they’re investing in you.”

As a rebuttal, Goldbach –– a junior communication and political science major –– called for the federal government to make loans more manageable for students.

“We can’t just have for-profit colleges giving people vague degrees,” Goldbach said. “We need to lower interest rates. The government can’t turn its back on students.”

More than 80 students attended Pitt's political debate Thursday night. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer
More than 80 students attended Pitt’s political debate Thursday night. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

Unlike the presidential debate, the University’s iteration had an in-house fact checker, Jon Merker –– business manager for the Political Science Student Association. Merker was on hand in case any of the debaters had questions regarding response accuracy. Participants called for a “fact check” on nearly every topic — sometimes in order to check their own assertions.

While there was obvious disagreement on issues such as gun control and health care, the two organizations agreed on the need for more training for police officers and increased awareness about veteran suicide rates. Also unlike the contentious presidential debate, in which neither Clinton nor Trump seemed inclined to compromise, there were several times throughout Thursday’s event when one side would note that they had agreed with the other side.

Some students, including Andrea Bartlett, a first-year computer science major, were pleased to hear this bipartisan harmony.

“I was surprised on how both [sides] would agree there was a problem,” Bartlett said. “I admire that they were both agreeing [and] coming up with different solutions.”

Even among the debaters, there was a concept that despite fundamental disagreements, there can be a middle ground. Stalford, a sophomore economics major who participated in the debate on the Democratic side, said he wished the same kind of agreement would be reached at the national level.

“A lot of the things we agreed on was what the problems were, where we disagreed was the solution to the problems,” Stalford said. “If [Congress is] too partisan, maybe there’s something wrong with that.”

Some students who attended the event engaged with the debate by taking notes and following along with the topics through research on their laptops.

Irwin, a senior political science and broadcast journalism major, said the event was engaging for students who attended.

“I thought it went really well. It did get heated, but I think that’s secretly the goal of something like this, is to get people to feel passionately about politics,” Irwin said. “When you’re a kid in the audience and you see kids your age getting heated up, I think it really speaks to you.”

There was no clear winner in the debate, according to Ellie Holzman, a first-year undecided major, who said both sides articulated their points well.

“It’s hard to say who [won]. They both were speaking eloquently and using facts to back that up,” Holzman said.

Irwin said the debate offered hope for the possibility of bridging the gap between party lines in the future.

“I think millennials are really understanding,” Irwin said. “That was a perfect example of democracy. You can take both opinions and hear each other out and who knows if they would’ve come to a united opinion. But talking it out is the first step. It’s really important for us to be united before we go and tackle [these issues].”

Disclaimer: Jesse Irwin also produces videos for The Pitt News.

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