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Big Ten Students Debate, Connect in Policy Simulation Focused on Cardin Bill

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It’s one thing to argue passionately for a cause you believe in, but what if you had to bring your best arguments to support a position that you otherwise strongly oppose? On Friday, October 6, students from across the Big Ten joined together for a policy simulation where many faced that dilemma. They stepped into the roles of current U.S. senators in a policy simulation hosted by the Big Ten Collaboration: Democracy in the 21st Century, a conference-wide partnership providing educational programming that promotes active civic education and engagement.

Forty students from campuses across the Big Ten were assigned to simulate different U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee members debating the Democracy Restoration Act, legislation sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) to secure voting rights for previously incarcerated persons. The simulation was designed and facilitated by University of Michigan Professor Elisabeth Gerber, using the ViewPoint simulation software platform.

Six students from the University System of Maryland, including a mix of graduate and undergraduate students from the School of Public Policy, joined in on the event.

The session kicked off with a recorded address to students from Senator Cardin, who welcomed students to the policy simulation and described the provisions of his bill. Even where they might not have personally agreed with the position of the senator they simulated, students eagerly took on partisan positions which led to a lively simulation. Students caucused as individuals representing a particular senator, as members of their respective parties, then deliberated as committee members and attempted to pass the Democracy Restoration Act of 2023 during the six hour simulation. The bill was eventually passed with bi-partisan support following amendments from both sides of the chamber.

BIG10 students played roles of various senators, including Ted Cruz (R-TX), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Cornyn (R-TX), forcing participants to put aside their personal political views and step into the shoes of their assigned senator. A student from Michigan State University playing Senator Ted Cruz commented on how difficult it was to argue against her own beliefs but later mentioned how important it is to understand where both sides are coming from. 

“Seeing students connect from different universities in the simulation was incredible,” said Emilie Lahneman, UMD School of Public Policy graduate student and simulation participant. “The event gave students the opportunity to have an open discussion on our democratic processes and challenged our own ways of thinking about politics and partisanship. I found myself struggling to play my senator given our differences in political leaning, but ultimately, I feel like I learned a great deal about compromise,” she added.

While students across the BIG10 were able to work together to pass this bill, there was also plenty of time to discuss student and academic life at each university. Students shared their thoughts on the bill and our voting system, discussing how participating in the simulation related to their career goals. Many students recognized the significance of sustaining the discussions and committed to maintaining communication on these issues.

The Democracy in the 21st Century program, spearheaded by the School of Public Policy’s Civic Innovation Center (CivIC) and the University of Michigan’s Ford School, provides the opportunity for student collaboration, and the potential byproduct of these simulations is student communication and connections across the Big10 campuses. 

These policy simulations aim to allow students to connect across the BIG10, foster a richer understanding of different perspectives and the legislative process, and develop an awareness of the complexity of lawmaking and the people behind it, said Paul Brown, Director of CivIC.

For Media Inquiries:
Megan Campbell
Senior Director of Strategic Communications
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