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    USC students find common ground at political debate

    There was a muted air of excitement Tuesday afternoon at Tommy’s Place, where the Center for the Political Future’s semiannual student political debate would soon take place. Students chatted among themselves and ate chicken sliders with fries as they waited. Co-moderators Sophia Perez and Darik de Jong sat onstage, admiring their gavels. 

    At 5:50 p.m., Perez finally welcomed the audience and advised everyone to remain civil, De Jong read the rules and Perez finally introduced the first topic.

    “We will have our gun control debaters now please step up to the mics,” she said. The room was silent, except for a few murmurs. 

    With the continuous threat of mass shootings and President Joe Biden’s recent authorization of the Willow Project, a controversial oil drilling operation in Alaska, current events took center stage in the debate between students from the Trojan Democrats and the USC GOP. In addition to gun control and climate change, students discussed immigration and affirmative action in the debate, which was co-sponsored by the Political Student Assembly and the Political Union.

    “At the beginning, [we want people to say] ‘Wow, we’re gonna talk about gun control!’, because these topics are usually really taboo,” said Perez, who is executive director of the Political Student Assembly, in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “We put on these debates to have these discussions of traditionally very controversial and highly volatile conversations … in a space that promotes awareness of the subjects and the arguments on both sides.”

    Aabhash Gautam, a senior majoring in business and member of the USC GOP, opened the first round of the debate, followed by James Aranguren, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering and member of the Trojan Democrats. Each debater gave a three-minute opening speech, followed by alternating one-minute periods for rebuttal and a one-minute period for unstructured cross debate. 

    During his opening statement, Aranguren expressed his frustration related to the seemingly endless cycle of mass shootings. 

    “Remember, the blood of every single victim of this uniquely American epidemic is on all of our hands,” Aranguren said. “I, for one, am getting a little bit tired of feeling like I need to scrub underneath my fingernails every single time someone says the words, ‘The perpetrators used an AR-15 style rifle.’”

    Moderators then asked a follow-up question to each speaker — a new addition to the debate format that pushed the moderators to engage with the debaters in a new way, Perez said.

    “[De Jong and I] had a Google Doc running the entire time. We were texting each other the whole time. So very, very interactive on our end,” Perez said.

    The next topic was affirmative action, opened this time by Trojan Democrats member Luis Antonio Martinez Paz, a junior majoring in theatre and philosophy, politics and law. James Gillespie, a masters student studying law and a member of the USC GOP, took the opposing side. 

    As an international student from the United Kingdom, Gillespie said he was initially wary about debating amid a polarized political climate in the United States, but found the debate to be largely cordial. After the debate ended, he and Martinez Paz discussed their mutual love of the HBO series “The Last of Us.”  

    “We didn’t talk at great length. But I think that’s one of the nice things about this sort of event … You don’t just have to be disagreeing about politics all the time,” Gillespie said. “You can talk about other things as well that you have in common.”

    After a historic influx of over 2 million migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2022, the following round focused on immigration policy in the U.S. Unlike Congress, which is still struggling to reach an agreement, the debaters agreed on some ways to solve the issue, such as increasing funding for the IRS to smoothen the process of legal immigration. The round ended early; Juan Pablo Moreland, a sophomore majoring in philosophy, politics and economics and a member of the USC GOP turned to his opponent and said, “I think we’re done now.” 

    The last round centered around climate change, a hot topic after the recent authorization of the Willow Project and the recent release of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. 

    Perez said this debate might represent a shift in political discourse in the U.S. towards more productive dialogue.

    “Three years ago in 2020, I don’t think this kind of debate could have [gone] on,” Perez said. “We’re moving in a way where we are able to have more respect for one another’s views, regardless of what they are, and so I hope it has a future.”



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