The Yale Political Union is the largest undergraduate organization at Yale, and the only group of its kind in the country. Founded in 1934 by Professor A. Whitney Griswold (who would later become University President) to combat the insular and apathetic Yale political culture of the 1930s, The Union of today remains an engaging forum for political debate and activity.
“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
Modeled after the Oxford and Cambridge Union Societies, the Yale Political Union exists to politically engage the University community. Each year America’s great social and political leaders visit the Union to discuss current affairs and debate with the most engaging students on campus. Senators and governors, judges and journalists, activists and academics alike come to the Union to debate topics such as “Resolved: Repeal Obamacare,” “Resolved: Break the Unions”, “Resolved: Institute Gender-Based Affirmative Action,” and “Resolved: Government Should Not Provide For The Poor.”The Union is a non-partisan organization, and guests come from across the political spectrum to address the members on a variety of topics that face the nation.
This year alone, the Union has hosted minister and civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton, Fox News program host John Stossel, and 80th Attorney General of the United States Alberto Gonzales. Past guests of the Union have included Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean, Key Founder of the modern Conservative movement William F. Buckley, Presidential candidates Ross Perot, Ralph Nader and Bill Bradley, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, National Review Online Editor Jonah Goldberg, American Civil Liberties Union director Nadine Strossen, United Nations ambassador Bill Richardson, former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed, and Central Intelligence Agency director George John Tenet.
The backbone of the Union is its strong party system, which breeds enduring friendships, encourages individual growth and provides the Union with a competitive and rigorous spirit. Each of the seven parties — Liberal Party, Party of the Left, Independent Party, Federalist Party, Conservative Party, Tory Party, and Party of the Right — has its own culture and style. Each hosts a variety of activities which complement the goals of the Union throughout the semester, ranging from weekly debates on more philosophical and social topics to the traditional toasting sessions at Mory’s, from quiet community service to rousing political protests.
In addition to our guest meetings, the Union also sponsors various other activities for the politically inclined throughout the year. There are three prize debates every year — the Freshman Prize Debate, the Gardner-White Memorial Debate, and the Party Prize Debate — where students face off against each other in an effort to win cash awards or the highly coveted Union life membership.
Though the Union has an advisory board that has included Senators, Governors, famed scholars, and Presidents such as John Kerry, George Pataki, Gerald Ford, David Boren, Ahkil Reed Amar and William F. Buckley, Jr., the Union remains primarily a student run organization. All Union officers are undergraduates, as are most of the members of the parties’ executive boards. Party and Union officers are elected during reading period each semester.
There is a place for everyone in the Union. Members vary from those who come only several times a semester to hear their favorite guests, to those who spend nearly every day immersed in some form of Union activity. All you need is an interest in politics.