Opinion | Letters to the Editor

Letter to the editor: Don’t discount multi-partisanship

In light of a recent Spectator op-ed entitled “A Debate at Columbia without Columbia,” the Columbia Political Union would like to clarify our multipartisan position. In his op-ed, Ufon Umanah, CC ’20, mentioned an op-ed published by the board and the debate moderated by CPU’s Debate Director Ali Fraerman, BC ’19,  in conjunction with Spectator’s Editorial Page Editor Paulina Mangubat, BC ’17, titled “The Last Word: A Debate and Discussion Among Four Parties.” In doing so, Umanah failed to acknowledge the value of that multipartisan space in the context of the national election. We would like to stress this: The Columbia Political Union is a space for Columbia to reflect on the political sphere, at every level of government.

As highly political individuals, we each carry our own personal beliefs and opinions, and we carry them strongly and passionately in other campus contexts.  We are all members of other political or identity groups, and we all have, at one point or another, expressed our political preferences publicly. Being on the CPU board does not preclude us from these opinions.  However, in our op-ed and in our multipartisan debate, “The Last Word,” we can only urge you to vote, vote early, and vote often. The stakes in any election are too high for you to stay home.

We fundamentally believe that some of the most important political decisions made in an individual’s lifetime will be those for local offices and referendums, both of which would function more effectively with bipartisanship. Our call to vote was not simply for this election or federal elections, but all elections, which is why we didn’t go into policy specifics.

The author called for us to speak about issues, such as student debt and affirmative action, that directly involve the Columbia community. But the Columbia political sphere is a national one: As Dean Valentini frequently says, Columbia is the “greatest university in the greatest city in the world.” Whether our debates discuss issues such as student debt, police brutality, or the Iran Deal, students are asked to reflect on their political identities as members of many larger communities, whether that be New York City, the United States, or abroad. To close off discussion of these larger topics since they do not refer to the common aspect of our multifaceted identities—that of student—is to underestimate a millennial agency in this election season and to diminish students’ role in the politics of the world they will soon inherit. The represented political groups selected the topics for the debate that they felt were important to discuss with the audience members, whose questions in the Q&A portion reflected a similar concern for “non-Columbia” issues such as the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Not every debate can address students in their role as student, nor should they. The Political Union seeks to push the community to think beyond the bubble of Morningside Heights, which members very well have the ability to change. When we urge people to vote, we are encouraging them to make change for all, to help the society around them. Tuesday night’s debate was not, as Umanah suggests, a debate “at Columbia without Columbia,” but rather, a debate “at Columbia, with the betterment of everyone in mind.” For those like Umanah who would like to talk about student issues, come to our meetings. We have conducted debates on whether the Core should be reformed and whether Columbia should divest from fossil fuels. And we will be hosting a debate on graduate student unionization at Columbia on Nov. 21.

We need spaces on campus with unbiased moderation, spaces where groups can discuss issues and all equally face shouts of “Speaker, your time has elapsed,” in the spirit of discourse rather than partisanship. As a multipartisan organization and the umbrella for other political groups on campus, we, as the Columbia Political Union, are proud to provide this space.

Keeping in mind all of the issues the Columbia Political Union has discussed, we do encourage you to vote on Nov. 8. To echo Umanah’s paraphrase of our debate director, “Vote. Vote because your congresspeople need you. Vote because state and local elections matter. Vote because people died so that you could have the option.”

Ali Fraerman, BC ’19, is studying human rights and political science; Shreya Sunderram, BC ’19, is studying political science; Rafael Ortiz, CC ’19, is studying political science and economics. Gabriela Sagun, BC ’19, is studying political science and economics. Emily Gruber, CC ’19, is studying history and classics. Margaret Corn, CC ’19, is studying film studies and neuroscience; she was one of the speakers representing the Columbia University Libertarians, but contributed to this letter in her capacity as co-PR director of the CPU. Mathieu Sabbagh, CC ’20, is studying mathematics and economics. The authors comprise the board of the Columbia Political Union. Paulina Mangubat, BC ’17 and Spectator’s editorial page editor, recused herself from editing this letter to the editor because of her involvement in planning and moderating “The Last Word: A Debate and Discussion Among Four Parties.

To respond to this letter, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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