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2022 Regents' Cup focuses on preserving democracy

Annual competition slated for April 30 at NAU

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April 28, 2022

Imagine a college campus where free speech was limited or even prohibited. Traditionally, American universities are the places that foster safe spaces and venues for students, faculty and the community to have open discussions and socially conscious debates. Staying true to this mission is the key driver behind the Regents’ Cup.

This year, the event will be hosted by Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff on April 30 and portions will be livestreamed for those who cannot attend in person. 

The annual event is an intellectual competition aimed at elevating respectful and effective communication, where students from Arizona’s three public universities — Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona — go head-to-head in Oxford-style debates and storytelling competitions to win thousands of dollars in scholarships, and of course humble bragging rights. 

It began in 2019 when Arizona Regent Karrin Taylor Robson’s son expressed his concern for not feeling like he had a safe place to have conversations with anyone who has opposing views. Robson was not discouraged. She was instead inspired to make sure that all three state universities remained places for civic engagement by introducing the Regents’ Cup. 

The 2022 theme will ask students to debate and discuss the importance of preserving democracy. Regent and Board Treasurer Larry Edward Penley was integral in presenting this year’s theme, and like many concerned Americans and engaged citizens, he is worried for the future of our democracy. 

“This isn't the first time that we've questioned whether the institutions of democracy will survive,” he said. “In particular, in recent years, we've watched people question the legitimacy of voting, we've watched people angry at the media, we've watched people question the judicial decisions and a growing disrespect for the judiciary. All of that, to me, represented a kind of crumbling of the institutions of democracy.”

“I think there's a lot of ways that you can appreciate democracy while still critiquing it and pushing it towards a more fair form, a more just form,” said Anthony Un, a double major in microbiology and anthropology, who will be competing as a storyteller.

Un, who is Cambodian American, will focus his story on an experience he had as a child visiting Cambodia during a time of unrest. On this trip, he witnessed protests about free and fair elections, which largely inspired his academic and career aspirations.  

“When I came back to the United States, I thought a lot about how they (the Cambodian people) were trying to find their own voice," Un said. "It really inspired me one to stand up for myself, but also to advocate for others.”

Fellow storyteller and teammate Lauren Kater is a doctoral student of social justice, and she will present her story on the importance of community colleges within Arizona and the country.

“My research is focused on democratic values and community building in schools. I am kind of using my experience growing up around community colleges,” she said.

“I think there’s a lot of listening to do and understanding to do. Preservation of democracy, and especially in accessible and culturally relevant education, is so important,” she said. “Anybody who wants to learn should have a way to do so that fits them.”

Participant Brittine Young, who is a woman of color in STEM, knows firsthand about being excluded or underestimated. Young, who is earning a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, sees civic debates as a way to get back to a true democracy in which everyone has their voices heard equally.

“I think with a lot of unforeseen circumstances and just a lot going on in the world, sometimes it's easy to kind of stray away from that,” she said. “A true democracy to me is making sure that everyone feels heard and accounted for, especially in a community where they have to live.”

This year’s event will return in person, so the students who have been rigorously preparing and practicing for months via Zoom will finally meet their teammates and coaches in person. 

Last year, ASU won the Regents' Cup competition for the second consecutive time. ASU students Abigail Spencer and Langston Tillman took first place in the Oxford debate portion, and Daniel Gyorffy of the University of Arizona took first place in storytelling, each winning $15,000 in a one-time scholarship. 

Read more about past results here.

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