Considering that Yale has produced America’s past three presidents, it should be no surprise that aspiring leaders and politicians find a plethora of opportunities to hone their debating skills on campus.
The Yale International Relations Association, the Yale Debate Association, the Yale College Mock Trial Association, the Yale Model Congress and the Yale Political Union are some of the many forums in which students can explore the professions of law and politics.
YIRA and the mock trial and model congress organizations provide opportunities for Yalies to act out, albeit in relaxed settings, the proceedings of actual political institutions.
These debate teams are no strangers to victory. Yale’s traveling model United Nations team — under the YIRA umbrella — has won its past eight conferences and established itself as a world champion, and Yale’s mock trial team placed eighth in undergraduate nationals this year. Brian Fletcher ’01 and Scott Luftglass ’01 of the debate team won the American Parliamentary Debate Association’s “Team of the Year” award.
The teams find this success all around the country and the world: Yale’s model United Nations travelling team competed at Georgetown and Harvard last year and recently claimed victory in a competition in Turkey.
In addition to competing in tournaments, both the model United Nations team and the Yale Model Congress organize conferences for high school students. For those members who attended college-run conferences while in high school, these gatherings offer the chance to experience conferences from the seat of authority rather than as delegates.
“We get to work with 700 high school students,” Yale Model Congress president Zachary Clopton ’03 said. “Seeing them progress throughout the conference is the most rewarding part.”
Another prominent speech and debate organization is the Yale Political Union. Students divided into parties representing the entire political spectrum gather twice a week to discuss issues ranging from prostitution to campaign finance reform.
The YPU, one of the largest organizations at Yale, has members from six main groups: the Liberal Party, the Progressive Party, the Independent Party, the Tory Party, the Conservative Party and the Party of the Right.
Beyond the discussion and debates, the social activities of the YPU and other organizations help bring members closer together.
The YPU goes to Mory’s every Friday for lunch, and YIRA members get together on Wednesday evenings for movies, television or toasting sessions.
“Wednesday night is reality TV night,” YIRA president James Weingarten ’01 said. “Sometimes it becomes Dawson’s Creek night, depending on who’s in charge of the remote.”
Although there is an element of fun, many students join these organizations because they are considering careers in law or politics. But others participate because of an interest in public speaking or acting, or simply to enjoy the thrill of competition and the camaraderie that develops among team members.
Diversity, political and ethnic, is another major aspect of Yale’s political and debate clubs. YIRA is composed of students from almost every country in the world. And the party members are not afraid to express their beliefs, pounding the table when they agree and hissing when they don’t.
“No matter how incredibly famous the guest speaker is, members will hiss in disagreement,” YPU President Adam Goldfarb ’02 said. “People even hissed at Ralph Nader when he came to speak.”