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November 6th, 2012

Dukes Debating Dukes

‘Is it our job to police the globe?’ ‘What is the role of the Environmental Protection Agency?’ ‘What should our nation’s health care system look like?’ Last Thursday, November 1st, attentive students and community members filled Warren Hall to hear these questions answered by JMU’s various political groups and organizations. The University Programming Board hosted the debates.

Harrisonburg Mayor Richard Baugh opened the debates with a few words encouraging the audience to take an active role in the political system. He spoke about affecting change at a local and a national level. “My advice is to give it a try and keep giving it a try,” said Baugh.

Four of JMU’s political groups were in attendance including Madison Liberty, James Madison Independents, College Democrats and College Republicans. A group of four moderated the event including Mayor Baugh, Mike Davis from the Madison Debate Society, Dr. Marty Cohen from the Political Science department, and Ben Copper from Student Government Association. Ben took the lead on asking questions and keeping time. Each group was given a chance to respond to questions provided by the audience, and give two-minute rebuttals after their opponents answered.

Organizers kept the debate current, utilizing social media by placing a live Twitter feed on a projection screen behind the speakers. During the debate the audience and the outside world tweeted #upbdebate2012. The tweets, regarding the topics at hand in the debate and the election in general, were immediately shown on the screen. This large visual allowed the audience to actively participate in the discourse. “It was great to see some audience feedback in live time,” said junior History major Jake Jedlika. “Because that’s something we sometimes miss in regular debates, and the opinions of people in the audience should matter.”

The debaters that showed up on Thursday represented the diversity of opinions that exist in harmony on the campus of JMU. The Presidential Election is on everyone’s mind, and people all around campus are engaging in healthy debate. “My purpose was to get students to start thinking about these things [topics],” said Dave Chesebrough of the JMU Independents. Although they may have differed in their opinions, everyone attending the debates seemed genuinely happy to be discussing the issues facing our country in public dialogue that was respectful and inclusive.