Home Campus Change their minds — off-campus groups debate abortion, border wall and more

Change their minds — off-campus groups debate abortion, border wall and more

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It’s a sunny day in Rexburg, with a clear blue sky and the temperature pushing 50 degrees.

For members of Young Americans for Freedom, an off-campus conservative political group, the sun means a perfect day for political discourse. They stand on a street corner across from NorthPoint Apartments, red paint on white pro-life posters in hand, ready to debate. They are modeling this event after Steven Crowder’s ‘Prove Me Wrong’ debates, where Crowder sets up a table at college campuses with posters bearing controversial statements, ready to debate anyone.

Today, YAF is ready to debate. Unfortunately, this time — the afternoon of March 20— they don’t receive much of a response.

However, YAF’s events have not always been so calm. On a less-sunny day on a street-corner between NorthPoint and the Cedars, YAF protested in favor of Trump’s proposed border wall and received a range of strong reactions. With a large ‘Build the Wall’ sign and members ready to debate, Andrew Bellini, a freshman studying political science, says that the goal was to spark discussion.

“We had some crazy reactions,” Bellini said. “Some people flipped us off. … We got tons of cheers too. We had this one girl tear down our sign towards the end.”

Despite the the disagreements, Bellini says that they were successful.

“We got a lot of political discourse going on. We didn’t know what to expect, but I think we did achieve what we were looking for.”

Although BYU-Idaho disbanded on-campus partisan political groups several years ago, off-campus groups have since formed, giving a voice to students and creating a space for political discourse.

Most of these groups are conservative, but this semester a new, left-leaning group has been founded, the Progressive Student Society. They seek to create a space for more liberal-minded students to gather.

For David Bell, a sophomore with an undecided major, being a part of the Progressive Student Society is beneficial because it gives him a chance to discuss his ideas freely with like-minded people, especially while living in a small, more conservative town. Bell sees opportunities for political discourse such as the debate as not only beneficial, but essential.

“People often complain about others being ‘too political’, but that’s only if their ideologies don’t match perfectly,” Bell said. “There is nothing wrong with not sharing the same beliefs. Political discourse encourages open mindedness and learning new things, and I believe this is essential if you want to be a good American.”

On Monday, the Progressive Student Society and Young Americans for Freedom embraced political discourse as they met for a debate. The basement of the Madison Liberty Institute was packed with an audience of about 80, but the room was nearly silent as the groups debated gun control, abortion, climate change and illegal immigration.

Although the two groups may differ in their stances on many issues, there is one thing they can agree on — that political discourse is healthy and important. The debates ended with handshakes, and the next day the groups gathered for a potluck. For the members of these student societies, political discourse is not personal, but important.

“We just want to have discussions and talk in a civil manner,” said Evelyn Semerau, a freshman studying recreation management.

Brooklyn Raymond, a sophomore working for a certificate in human resource management and the student engagement outreach coordinator at the Madison Liberty Institute, sees debates like these as a crucial part of developing one’s own opinions. The goal of the debate was to get people thinking.

“I think that we got a lot of people thinking,” Raymond said. “I think we had some opinions changed (and) I think we had some opinions more solidified. I think this debate went way better than we ever could have imagined. Become educated in what you believe, and then become active in what you believe.”

For those looking to become more active in what they believe, these off-campus student organizations can be followed on Instagram. Progressive Student Society (@progressivestudentsrexburg) and Young Americans for Freedom (@yaf_mli).




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