Nationally recognized SIU debaters discuss presidential candidates


By William David Higgs III, @Higgs_Third

Only a handful of people’s political beliefs were swayed by two of the best young debaters in the country Tuesday evening.

SIU students Arielle Stephenson and Bobby Swetz — who recently finished as the runner-ups at this year’s National Championships of Debate — took the stage at the Student Center Auditorium to debate which major political party would be best for southern Illinois. Stephenson argued in favor of the Democratic frontrunners and Swetz argued in favor of the Republicans.

Todd Graham, debate team director, asked the audience members to vote for either the Republican or Democratic frontrunners before the debate began. The majority of the audience expressed support for the Democratic position, although many showed support for Republican frontrunners.  


“We’re asking you to vote for who you think would be best for southern Illinois, not necessarily who would be the best president,” said Graham, who has analyzed presidential debates for CNN

The debate focused most intently on energy, education and agriculture. The argument quickly turned to the problems related to education. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget cuts to the state’s higher education factored heavily into the arguments of both debaters.

“While in the short term budget cuts may seem devastating, they are critical to the long term sustainability of universities around the country,” said Swetz, a freshman from Flossmoor studying economics. “In a world were places like [Chicago State University] can’t even afford to stay open, the future of SIU without budget cuts does not look pretty.”

Stephenson said several measures proposed by the current Democratic candidates, such as Bernie Sanders’ proposed tax on Wall Street, would provide adequate revenue to fund universities and make college freely available to students. Swetz responded by claiming such measures would increase the cost of public universities to the state, ultimately leading to a mass closure of public universities statewide.

Debate starts about 53 minutes in

The downsizing of university services that would result from budget cuts would decrease tuition, making college more affordable, he argued.


Stephenson countered by arguing there are alternatives to budget cuts, which would make college more affordable without limiting universities.

“It’s not budget cuts or nothing,” said Stephenson, a junior from Torrance, Calif., studying business economics. 

At the end of the debates, the audience was asked to indicate whether they had been persuaded by either argument to change which party they support. Six people stood to indicate they had shifted their support from Republican to Democrat. No audience members indicated a shift in support from Democrat to Republican.

David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said this is the second time the institute hosted the debate, and he plans to do one annually featuring SIU debaters.

William David Higgs can be reached at [email protected] or 618-536-3325.