The society debated whether immigration 'does more harm than good'Louis Ashworth for Varsity

A new debating society has been criticised for its choice of motions, with multiple students claiming motions on immigration and positive discrimination made them feel “unwelcome”.

Cambridge University Intercollegiate Debating Society, which has been running for 4 weeks, describes itself as a “debating society aimed at inclusive debate,” and has marketed itself as a more accessible alternative to the Cambridge Union.

The two motions came in succession over the past two weeks, with a debate last Friday (09/02) titled “This house believes immigration does more harm than good” receiving backlash over its “lack of nuance” and potentially “sensitive and traumatic” connotations.

These criticisms have been questioned by the society, who claim that motions were selected randomly, and were intended to be as broad as possible for good debate.

The organisers of the debate asked speakers to arrive one hour early in order to discuss the criticisms surrounding the motion.

Sam Hutton, the only BME speaker in either debate, told Varsity: “The motion that was put forward on Friday was phrased in a way that lacked nuance, and gestured towards currently relevant arguments happening in government which are sensitive and traumatic for many students with immigrant backgrounds.”

“I know that had I not signed up to speak, I wouldn’t have attended; but seeing the motion, I thought it was important that at least one BME student was in the debate,” he continued.

Hutton also argued that having a debating society that is “inclusive and accessible” is “really important”. “If topics for future events are chosen well and they learn from this, I think the society could become a much-need alternative to the traditionally toxic Cambridge debate space”, they said.

A student who spoke at another of the society’s debates told Varsity that motions “can be judged on two criteria,” those being “a moral imperative that set motions are unproblematic” and “that the motion is reasonably balanced”.

“I think it’s quite clear that the motion fails in both respects,” they said.

The student added, however, that “thankfully the debate that took place was nuanced and progressive from both sides”.

The criticisms originally emerged from a post on Clare College’s confessions page, which labelled the motions as “terrible” and “trying to be controversial”.


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The society said: “CUIDS was set up as an accessible alternative to other forums of debate in Cambridge. [...] The issues raised in this story are a crucial part of our progression.”

“We recognise the seriousness of the motions and are sincerely sorry to any who felt our motions lacked the right degree of sensitivity,” they said.

Regarding the lack of representation among speakers, the society said: “We acknowledge the issue of representation that was raised calls into question the whole point of CUIDS and the purpose with which it was created.”

“We feel there is a perception we have debaters queuing up, that we then handpick. Not only are College Captains responsible for gathering debaters but often we have been without debaters right up until a day before the debate. We hope that as the society grows and becomes more established, many more will be eager to speak,” they said.