Political student organizations face off in virtual debate

Clockwise from left, Atoosi Haghani, Haley Leis and Tee Jenkins, Isaiah Hicks, moderator Bill Oglesby, Kerry Flynn and Josh Hartt meet in a virtual debate between Young Democrats and College Republicans. Photo by Andrew Ringle

Anya Sczerzenie, Staff Writer

VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences hosted a virtual debate Monday night to discuss major political issues a week ahead of this year’s presidential election.

Hosted by VCU mass communications professor Bill Oglesby, the debate was between VCU’s College Republicans and Young Democrats. Three members of each organization faced off over Zoom, a video conferencing software, answering questions from Oglesby and online viewers.

The three College Republicans were Isaiah Hicks, Josh Hartt and Kerry Flynn. Opponents from the Young Democrats were Haley Leis, Atoosa Haghani and Tee Jenkins. Debate participants answered questions about COVID-19, police reform, foreign policy, healthcare and climate change.

In his closing statement, Oglesby said the debate was marked by civility — something that many say is lacking between candidates President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. 

“I think the actual candidates need to take notes,” Oglesby said. 

Below is a transcription of selected discussion points from the debate. Responses, listed in alphabetical order by speaker, have been edited for length and clarity.


Josh Hartt, College Republicans: We have to make sure that the cure isn’t worse than the disease. Of course the big businesses will come back, but the cost for small businesses has been astronomical. People’s livelihoods are on the line. And most people who get the disease aren’t going to die from it. Shutting down the economy is worse than being responsible, wearing your mask and opening businesses with regulations.

Tee Jenkins, Young Democrats: Trump failed to give Americans the proper notice about the severity of this virus — 223,000 Americans died. That can be people’s parents, people’s grandmothers, people’s kids. I believe both Biden and Harris are capable of combating this virus. Once we find the vaccine, the economy will boost back up, but we have to deal with the COVID before we go on with our lives. 

On foreign policy

Atoosa Haghani, Young Democrats: We have to acknowledge the idea that sometimes the United States needs to use a more hands-off approach. Maybe we shouldn’t be so involved in what other people are doing. Maybe the leaders in other countries, the true progressive leaders, know what’s best for countries because they’ve lived there for so long. Sanctions make it harder for people in Iran to get what they need to survive, like medicine. They hurt only the people, and not necessarily the top rulers. We have enough issues here in America — we shouldn’t be trying to play world savior. 

Hartt: I agree with the Young Democrats that we should back off the international stage a little bit. That’s something that Trump has done. He’s reduced our presence in the Middle East. He was able to shake hands with Kim-Jong Un. Trump has made sure that our alliances are paying their fair share for the protection they get from the United States. “America First” has done wonders for our economy, our security and our spending. 

On police reform

Isaiah Hicks, College Republicans: I think it should be understood that there’s a delineation between those who are peacefully protesting and those who are rioting. When these protests devolve into riots, that’s when law and order needs to be put into place. College Republicans stand with peaceful protestors, but we do not stand with the rioters. We believe in the removal of police unions, which are the ones that protect these bad cops. Perhaps that’s one of the more practical steps to police reform. 

Jenkins: We need to look at reform as reallocating the funds. Police do not need tear gas, nor do they need rubber bullets in order to control a peaceful assembly. Police are out of control, the way they are treating these protesters. Ninety-six to 98% of protests are nonviolent. We need to reallocate funds to bring social workers and psychologists within that department.

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