College Democrats seek open-minded discussion rather than debates

Student political groups: passion for their party & encouraging discourse

The Spectrum

Quinne Sember, a senior biomedical sciences and political science major, took a trip to Washington, D.C., with her eighth grade class. Her teacher handed her a pin, which ultimately foreshadowed her future in the political world. It said, "Friends don't let friends vote Republican."

"[I often had] very vocal, liberal opinions during class," Sember said. "I suppose I especially began to notice in AP Government class in class in high school when we did a political spectrum quiz and my score was very liberal and when we would debate issues in class."

Sember described her hometown of Clarence as Republican. It wasn't until she came to UB that she felt she found a place where she could comfortably discuss political issues and her democratic values. She joined College Democrats and is now the club's president.

Each week, members participate in conversations regarding different political topics and are educated about political campaigns and who is running for what positions in current elections. The group said its mission is to spread information about important political issues and to encourage political participation on UB's campus.

"So many people are apathetic about politics and I think it may be worse here, in New York, because we are not a swing state and tend to vote so reliably Democratic - with some exceptions," Sember said. "I like to give people a place to express their views and opinions and discuss them with others while making connections with other people who are politically active."

Sember said all of the members know how to carry out respectful political discussions. Though some debates can get heated, everyone is able to respect each other at the end of the meeting, she said. Sember believes this is extremely important in a college political club and appreciates members' abilities to enter a room willing to listen to others' opinions.

She said the club members come from different backgrounds, interests, parties, majors and even countries, but each member has the same goal: to discuss political issues with others in a way that is fun.

The club also invites guest speakers to educate students on various topics. On Nov. 20, the College Democrats are bringing Planned Parenthood representatives to lecture at UB.

In April, an anti-abortion display outside the Student Union caused contentious debate among students. Sember said she hopes to facilitate open discussions rather than debates when her group invites organizations like Planned Parenthood to campus.

"Frankly, the pro-choice/pro-life debates have gotten old," she said. "They turn into shouting matches and are not productive for anyone involved."

This is part of why the campus' political clubs have focused on having joint discussions rather than debates, Sember added.

People are always shocked to find out how close the members of the College Republicans and Democrats are, according to Sember.

They know when it's appropriate to discuss political issues and when it's not and strive to maintain a level of respect and friendship with people from the other side, she said.

The president of each club tries to attend the other's meetings.

"It sets a fantastic example in a country where partisan politics has gotten way out of hand," Sember said.

Sean Kaczmarek, a sophomore economics and international studies major, joined College Democrats last year. He's now the club's vice president.

"Everybody has different opinions on different issues, even within the same political party," Kaczmarek said. "By being part of this club, I've been able to explore the differences in opinions."

Kaczmarek enjoys the club's environment because "no one will be angry if you disagree with them," he said. He likes that the club can "throw around ideas" and look to see what the best solutions are the problems our nation faces.

Sember is interested in getting many different kinds of people from different backgrounds interested in political issues and ready to vote in an informed way.

Sember believes the club has been successful because its membership has been increasing substantially and members always leave the meetings having learned something new.