In a world of increasing political polarity, it’s reassuring to know that there are still places where civil discourse can happen across party lines. Thankfully, one of those places is Colorado College.
On the evening of Friday, September 15, a group of students came together in Taylor Theatre on the CC campus to witness two of their classmates discuss and debate some of the most important topics affecting our country today. Zoraiz Zafar ’24, a Mathematical Economics major, argued the Libertarian position while Caitlin Soch ’24, an International Political Economy major, debated the progressive side.
The event was completely student-organized and student-run. From pre-event marketing to lights, sound, photography, and video on the night, it was all CC students. The debate was hosted by Cutler Publications, the independent, student-run non-profit that funds and oversees CC’s student publications (including the student newspaper, The Catalyst), and the planning and production was done by a group of students headed by Cutler Publications President, Zeke Lloyd ’24.
“We wanted to host an event for young professionals in our community, an opportunity for students to transform into videographers, moderators, journalists, and political experts,” Lloyd says. “We also wanted to educate and inform the student body on the range of perspectives which exist not only around the country, but also right here on campus.”
The moderators for the evening were Catalyst Co-Editor in Chief, Isabella Ingersoll ’25 and Catalyst News Editor, Marynn Krull ’26. The event crew was completed by Debate Fact Checker, and Catalyst Co-Editor in Chief, Michael Braithwaite ’24, who was at stage-right with his computer, at the ready for any clarification or fact-checking needs. The theater was entirely full with CC students.
“The purpose of this evening is to encourage intellectual conversation outside of the classroom,” Ingersoll stated during her opening remarks. “We want to showcase the unique ideas of this generations thinkers.”
The moderators began the debate by asking the two speakers whether or not each thought the U.S. Supreme Court had overextended its powers in recent decisions. Soch and Zafar both agreed that political division of the court has ballooned but did not see eye to eye on the needed change. Zafar’s solution was to ban appointments during election years. “A 6-3 Republican court is fine,” he said. “A 6-3 activist court is not.”
The second question asked Zafar and Soch what the U.S. Government should do about climate change. Soch was adamant that our response to climate change must include government involvement. Zafar said the free market would be a better source of help. “Innovation,” he repeated several times. “You don’t go to the guy who hit you with a car to fix you up.” He believes that government interference would only delay any solutions and that the free market is the only way to solve our problems. Soch argued that a truly free market is a utopian idea and that, in reality, government oversight is the only thing to keep independent, unregulated business from destroying our planet.
The two debaters were then asked what they thought should change in U.S. policing. Soch immediately called for the defunding and demilitarizing of the police causing Zafar to balk at the use of the term “defund”. “Slogans become the source of political polarization,” he said. He believes that the mainstream media inflates the idea of a violent police force and that the solution lies in devolving the police to a local level. Soch argued that the term “defund” had actually been politicized by conservatives and that it’s not a call for the eradication of the police. “It’s a need for change, for demilitarization,” she said. “We need our police to be better trained, especially in mental health.” She is certain it cannot be handled solely at a local level.
For the fourth round of discussion, debate moderators asked what the U.S. Government should have done differently with the Covid-19 pandemic. Soch and Zafar could not agree on the efficacy of lockdowns. “The individualistic culture in the U.S. hurt us,” Soch said. “We prioritized the individual over the public good. The government needs to protect the public good.” Zafar insisted that quarantining, mask-wearing, and vaccinations should be a personal choice and that the government just needs to provide public education. Braithwaite was called upon to provide data on the effectiveness of mask-wearing.
The fifth question focused on the Second Amendment and what role it should play in modern America. Soch called for regulation. “There needs to be federal standards,” she said. Across the stage, and on the other side of the political spectrum, Zafar allowed for background checks at a local level, but nothing more. “Federal power allows for overreach,” he said.
Zafar and Soch were then asked about healthcare, (with Zafar arguing that we are in massive healthcare debt and the free market would bring it down and Soch stating that the government needs to intervene in the market failure of healthcare) and the United States’ diplomatic approach to Taiwan. “Principles aren’t principles if you don’t stand up for them when tested,” Soch said. “Something needs to be done,” Zafar agreed. “But we can’t risk World War 3 for it.” A discussion followed analyzing our economic involvement with China and whether that helps or hurts our relationship with Taiwan.
The moderators did eventually find one point where the speakers completely agreed. When asked to raise their hand if they thought our country should decriminalize drugs, both did, and the discussion moved on.
The following question asked the debaters how our country should deal with the overdose epidemic. Soch argued the need for regulation over the legalization of drugs and reparations for the War on Drugs. Once again, citing a worry of government overreach, Zafar called for regulation only at a local level. “The DEA should not be involved,” he said.
For the tenth and final question of the night, the moderators asked Zafar and Soch to discuss whether or not they thought Universal Pre-K should be government funded. Zafar admitted that some form of Universal Pre-K should be funded, but at the local and state level. “Income levels must be taken into account,” he added. Which prompted Soch to respond that “education is the great equalizer, but it’s not if we only allow it to certain groups.”
In a space like CC, that’s notoriously considered to be unanimously left-leaning, the students here continue to prove this not to be the case. Colorado Springs is currently one of the more politically diverse cities in the country and it finds a mirror of this on campus. CC students have opinions that range across the political spectrum and are eager to have tough conversations.
“We wanted to prove that despite our differences in opinion, there’s nothing which really stands in the way of civil discourse,” says Lloyd. “The people on stage Friday night modeled that. But it wasn’t really about them. Just like it wasn’t really about the moderators or any of the Cutler administrators who organized it. The debate was about the people who watched, the people who walked out of the theater knowing that they can feel a little more at home at CC, armed with the knowledge that even though we might disagree, dialogue is not beyond any of us and there is humanity inside all of us.”
Cutler Publications is in the planning stages for an ongoing series of cross-the-aisle student debates throughout this academic year. Stay tuned for the next Courageous Conversations event.