This year the Bob Jones University Public Policy Organization debate team plans to raise awareness about the value of student debate to encourage the discussion of different ideas in a polarized culture.
The organization’s current debate team was founded last year, an effort largely driven by recent BJU graduate and former PPO president, Jonathan Valadez. Valadez was passionate particularly about using the organization to bring back student debate and wanted to see it eventually go all the way to intercollegiate status.
The current president of the PPO, senior English major Naryan Parimi, echoes this sentiment. “The team is not intercollegiate yet,” he said. “We’re trying to work toward that. There used to be such a team several years ago. Our goal is to give the University an intercollegiate debate team and restore that part of the culture.”
The former BJU intercollegiate team debated for over 35 years with its first recorded tournament in 1972 and its last in 2008. Parimi believes a lack of student interest may have been one of the factors that led to the organization’s dissolving.
Parimi and his team now wish to champion debate and prove its value to the student body.
“There’s been a trend in our culture toward thinking only one way,” he said. “Debate forces you to get out of that. In debate, you’re forced to argue one side that you don’t necessarily believe in. Generally, what happens is you have a topic with two sides, and you are selected to argue for one side randomly. This process really opens your mind to a wealth of ideas.”
Alexander Grupp, a business administration major and the vice president of the PPO, affirmed this. “A lot of people go to their news sources and read only their new sources, and that makes up their entire opinion,” he said. “This is part of the reasons why political polarization is where it’s at. People do not research the other side.”
Parimi wants students to know the benefits of debate for preparing for a professional career.
“For me personally, I’m an English major,” he said. “I’m planning on going to law school after I graduate, and I feel so much more prepared to be an attorney because of my participation in debate. Before I started doing debate, I would have never imagined becoming an attorney because I couldn’t even speak publicly without freezing up and feeling dizzy.”
Zachary Smith, a freshman English and history double major member of the new debate team, has seen the team’s ability to train students first-hand.
“We want to develop a team that can compete at an intercollegiate level, and we want to develop debaters who will be able to compete with the best of other colleges,” he said. “Debate is something that develops communication and critical thinking. I would encourage everyone to join something like debate. It will change you.”
Because of the organization’s focus, many of the debates will center on political issues. “We see in the world today that a lot of people have strong opinions about politics, but they don’t necessarily do that much to actually get involved,” Smith said. “Do you know how to influence people? Do you know who your state representative is? Can you call them and have a conversation about an issue you care about?”
Currently the debate team is holding debates exclusively among members of the PPO.
Parimi and the team are focused on spreading the word about the importance of the team around campus. “[Intercollegiate status] is in the administration’s hands,” he said. “I think it’s something the school really needs. I think it’s something every university needs. We are focused mainly on building interest within the student body to show how needed it is.”
“Everyone has a voice, and everyone’s voice deserves to be heard,” he said. “Developing this skill in order to make your voice heard whenever you need it to be heard is something that everyone can use.”