By Jessica Reif
On October 18, 2012, my conservative student group had the honor
of hosting a debate between Senator Rick Santorum and Governor
Howard Dean at Cornell University as part of Young America's Foundation's Great Debate Series sponsored by the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation. Over 1,100 students
and members of the Cornell community crowded in the auditorium to
see the debate, and thousands of others watched online or in
overflow seating areas on-campus.
Crowds this large are unusual for any event at Cornell,
particularly on public policy. The general attitude on campus is apathetic, and the few students who are involved have already formed concrete opinions and are often
uninterested in hearing from the other side. Most students won't step outside of their comfort zone without an
exciting reason to care about key issues and to hear from both sides of
the spectrum. That is why this event was so important for the
Cornell community. Students who are generally apathetic came to
listen to two of the nation's most distinguished leaders.
Students who came ready to cheer on Governor Dean found things in
Senator Santorum's arguments with which they agreed, and vice
versa. This debate made students think about their positions
and gain a better understanding of what they actually believe.
The two biggest accomplishments of this event were getting
students talking about public policy. As the crowd filtered out of the
auditorium, students discussed the way the debate had unfolded and
which positions they agreed with and which they
didn't. Students posted on Facebook and Twitter about the
arguments they heard. A professor brought up the event
in class the following week, calling it a model example of civil
discourse between opposite ends of the spectrum.
Following the event,
my group has taken part in several events. At each
one, students raised questions about the Senator Santorum vs.
Governor Dean debate and the role of government in a free society.
To hear these types of questions makes me confident that the debate
made students question the size of government and reconsider its
Jessica Reif is a conservative activist at Cornell University.