“This Union can be of undoubted value to nation and to the University, provided it maintains independence and voices the true thoughts of those participating…Honest debates will help in the search for truthful answers.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1935
We are the Yale Political Union: the oldest and largest student debating society in America. Each week, we invite a prominent national figure to deliver an address before the Yale community, and students have a chance — over tea, dinner, wine, late-night pizza or a formal debate — to engage and challenge those leaders, as well as each other. John Kerry, Karl Rove and Steve Colbert are only three of countless esteemed guests the Union has had over the past 82 years.
What makes guests so special is the varying perspectives they bring with them. What makes the Union special is the way it brings students and guests together in multiple spaces that allow for any willing students to get involved. Guest dinners, guest debates, and mingling are all integral parts of the Yale Political Union Experience.
Since 1934, the Union’s purpose has been the encouragement of spirited and substantive debate on the issues that matter most to the future of this country. We use parliamentary procedure to ensure an atmosphere of open-minded civility, as we have since our founding; however, the debates are hardly tame. As the largest undergraduate organization at Yale with a membership of hundreds of students, the Union is always abuzz with activity, intellectual or otherwise. Sometimes, if not often, the most interesting argument of the night may not come from the Supreme Court justice, Congressman, or political firebrand we happen to have at the podium that evening, but from one of our own fellow students.
We in the Union believe that our purpose is central to that of Yale. The open, yet rigorous exchange of ideas; the convergence of this generation of leaders and the next; the perfection of argument and oratory – these are what the Yale Political Union does best. Many schools may have academic rigor in the classroom; learning from professors isn’t unique. But it is only at Yale that we have the Political Union, a recognition of an alternative way to learn: from each other.
But What Is The Union?
The Yale Political Union has seven parties: two on the Coalition of the Left, one at the center, and four on the Coalition of the Right. These seven parties come together at the Union each week to debate with a guest.
Though resolutions may have left/right splits, members from all parties frequently speak for both sides of resolutions. For instance, for the Affirmative Action Debate, members from Left, Center, and Right aligned parties all gave moving speeches for and against Affirmative Action. Parties also have their own weekly debates and activities, such as having mixers, toasting, and going on excursions. While most members of the Union are affiliated with Parties, this is not a prerequisite for involvement in the Union. Moreover, Yale students who do not have Union membership often attend Union debates that pique their interests.
“The Yale Political Union is a recognition that learning transpires through doing – through transforming a thought into a speech and, most importantly, defending it.”
The Yale Political Union has reciprocal membership with the Oxford and Cambridge Unions.