The University of Tampa Political Union held its first commencement ceremony in the Vaughn Center Crescent Club on Feb. 23. The first organization of its kind, the Tampa Political Union hosts and encourages debates between members of all political parties and provides a place for members to openly discuss policies and petitions.
The brainchild of it’s president, Pedro Belaunzaran, the organization was formed in December 2014. Belaunzaran, a senior biology major with a minor in chemistry and government and world affairs, hopes that the politically apathetic University of Tampa could become a place of change.
Whit Lloyd, speaker of the house and senior history major, said UT is considered the seventh most apathetic college in the country, according to the Princeton Review.
“When Pedro first approached me he said ‘I had a dream’, and my reaction was ‘the last time you said that we ended up with three members left in our last organization!’ I was concerned but I know that this is something big,” Lloyd said.
While UT has organizations for libertarians, republicans and democrats, the Tampa Political Union is the first organization of its kind and is aimed at uniting all parties to elicit change.
“We wanted to come together as a non-partisan platform for everyone to discuss anything from philosophical issues to social issues of today,” Belaunzaran said.
The organization is not closed to undergraduate students only, and has created bills to allow graduate students to take a more active role.
“Within the first 30 days we passed a bipartisan bill that would allow graduate students to pursue full membership of the Tampa Political Union and to pursue executive office,” Belaunzaran said.
Another goal of the Tampa Political Union is to promote diversity and embrace change with regards to civil rights issues.
“We have made a bipartisan effort to promote gender and racial equality by creating the first congressional women’s caucus and the first black caucus at the University of Tampa,” Belaunzaran said.
Alexis Carro, the leader of the women’s caucus and president of the He for She Student Alliance is excited to use the Tampa Political Union as a platform for women. Carro is a sophomore music education major, and is hoping to share the word about the He for She campaign.
“He for She is a movement to advocate for gender equality by getting men involved and getting them to speak up for women’s rights and the inequalities that women and girls face,” Carro said.
“He for She has something to offer for men as well,” Carro said. “Women have fought long enough on their own. When men stand up for women, women can stand up for men and we can start the road to gender equality.”
In the next semester, Carro hopes to have a kick off event to inform everyone about He for She and the work that the Tampa Political Union is doing to help gender equality.
Aside from promoting gender and racial equality and a healthy debate, the Tampa Political Union will also host an array of lawmakers and legislatures.
“The goal is to give students the connections that they may need to help them in a political aspect down the line,” Belaunzaran said.
One confirmed speaker is the influential Paula O’Neil, Pasco County Clerk and Comptroller. Belaunzaran hopes that through speeches given by politicians, not only can students gain a firm understanding of politics and how they operate, but that they can also meet and speak one on one with people who may help students further their career down the line.
In speeches given by both the leaders of the Young Republicans student group and the College Democrats student group, it is apparent that party lines are not going to separate these students from a hearty debate.
At the commencement ceremony, parties from all sides, even the ones most greatly opposing, were cordial and friendly—high-fiving as they stood to take their oaths with their hands on an American flag.
“We came together and a lot of people had a lot of skepticism about the political union and its sustainability throughout the year,” Belaunzaran said. “However, at this point, what I’ve found is that since we have unified the political parties together we have grown stronger than ever.”
The future of the Tampa Political Union looks bright, according to Belaunzaran.
“We are finally able to have a platform to come together and not only influence the UT community but also to help promote a positive change in the Tampa Bay community as a whole,” Belaunzaran said.
Krista Byrd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org