Showcase debate features heated opinion from students

By Michelle Williams

Students, faculty and community members filled the Cape Cod Lounge in the University of Massachusetts Student Union Wednesday night, with students packing in to sit on the floor or stand in the back just to catch a glimpse of a showcase debate between left and right ideologies, sponsored by the Student Legal Service Office, The Silent Majority, The Radical Student Union and the Massachusetts Daily Collegian.

With Will Syldor representing the left side of the political spectrum and Brad DeFlumeri on the right, the two UMass students debated hot-button issues ranging from affirmative action to abortion, gay marriage, economics, prison, and immigration.

Moderating the event were Corey M. Carvalho, associate director of the Student Legal Services Office, Charlie Felder, President of the University Democrats, and Alyssa Creamer of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian. Creamer began by introducing the speakers, and then stated the rules of the debate and gave a brief bio of each speaker.

While introducing DeFlumeri as a die-hard Yankees fan amid boos from the crowd, Felder said half-jokingly, “here’s to hoping the Yankee comment is the most controversial thing you hear tonight.”

To begin the debate, Felder posed a question to the candidates about affirmative action, using a quote by conservative radio-host and former presidential candidate Alan Keyes. First to speak, Syldor said that “Keyes is a fool.” Arguing that there isn’t the level playing field for different races in America, Syldor went on to say, “He argues it isn’t because of white supremacy, but black ignorance.”

DeFlumeri argued that affirmative action wasn’t constitutional, citing the Fourteenth Amendment.

“I think affirmative action, any distinction of the government on the basis of race, exacerbates racial ties,” he said.

Relating affirmative action to unemployment, DeFlumeri went on make a case for eliminating the federal minimum wage.

“If we were to make a system of high unemployment and a minimum wage system, like we currently have, it’s absolutely essential that we understand that the unemployment rate will function as a condition of wages, of what people are being paid federally by the Congress in each state’s minimum wage,” he said.

In response to DeFlumeri’s call for eliminating the minimum wage, Syldor argued such a measure would not be in workers’ interests.

“If you need to eat, you’re not going to contemplate your choices of employment,” said Syldor.

The next topic discussed was abortion. The moderators, quoting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), read a statistic stating that 40 percent of abortions in America are undergone by African-American women, though they make up only 13 percent of the population.

Speaking first on the issue, Syldor said, “I would argue that the use of these statistics in many anti-choice arguments wrongfully characterize black women as weak-minded, hypersexual and unable to make their own decisions.”

Syldor attempted to make the case that though African-American women were having proportionally more abortions, he did not feel it was because they were persuaded to do so.

“The reason black women are having abortions is because they don’t have a supportive partner, and that they cannot afford to have a child,” he said.

DeFlumeri opened by using numerous quotes by Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, afterwards noting that “these groups prey on poor minorities, in inner cities – like Springfield and Holyoke. They mislead the public in their effort to do so,” he said.

DeFlumeri argued that it is pro-choice groups themselves which are the cause of the disproportionate demographics in the number of abortions performed.

“Planned Parenthood is bent of profiting from aborting children of the most disadvantaged and susceptible in our society,” he said. “They’re not going into predominantly suburban areas and pushing forth their pro-abortion, pro-death message.”

Perhaps the most heated debate between the speakers and the audience members was when Felder introduced a question about gay marriage.

Quoting Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Margaret Marshall, Felder asked DeFlumeri to address Marshall’s statement that marriage is not a privilege, but a right.

Citing the passage of Proposition 8 in California, DeFlumeri said citizens passing a bill banning gay marriage previously made legal by a State Supreme Court decision showed that the issue isn’t supported by majority of the population.

“The public said the state is not going to permit gay marriage,” he said. “States should be able to decide which policies work for them.”

In response to DeFlumeri’s comments, Syldor compared the LGBTQ movement to the abolitionist movement.

“The abolitionists spoke of slavery as an inhumane institution, and were called crazy at the time, because the majority of our society couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea,” said Syldor. He continued to argue that banning marriage for the LGBTQ community was treating them as second-class citizens, noting that “if you protect the right of a heterosexual couple to get married, but not same-sex couples under the same circumstances, you are blatantly homophobic.” DeFlumeri responded to Syldor, denying the link between the ban of slavery and gay marriage.

This topic came up again during the question and answer section, with all questions directed towards DeFlumeri. The first question was asked by SGA Chief Justice of the Student Judiciary Robert Weed, who wanted DeFlumeri to retouch on the gay marriage question. DeFlumeri cited the Fourteenth Amendment again, saying that “it was not meant to protect sexual minorities.” The questions that followed also focused on asking DeFlumeri to justify his beliefs on gay marriage. After two hours of debate and discussion, moderators called the event to an end.

When asked how he thought the event went, Syldor said he felt it went “alright.” He said he was glad so many people came out to watch and participate, though he was uneasy representing the left when he didn’t fully consider himself a “leftist.”

DeFlumeri felt the debate went well, though he felt people stopped listening to his views after Syldor “began to vilify opponents of gay marriage as ‘homophobic,’ and instead focused on emotional questions.”

Michelle Williams can be reached at [email protected]