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The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Students debate mental health policy

Nervous students gathered at the City Council Chambers and City Plaza to give presentations on mental health last Friday.

Since 2010, Chico State has partnered up with the city to put on the Great Debate, a  semi-annual forum for students and community members to discuss issues of public importance.

The Great Debate was started to get the city more engaged with current issues, said Zach Justus, the Chico State professor who coordinated the event.

“The city was especially concerned with the state of discourse at city council meetings and other meetings,” Justus said.  “They came to Thia Wolf at the university with the question of how is it that we can train people to do a little better? And from those initial conversations the Great Debate was born.”

Communication studies students from Chico State and Butte College spoke in front of fellow classmates and community members.

This year’s topic was mental health. Students’ topics ranged from depression to autism.

All freshmen students in the general education communication studies classes were required to create presentations on mental health issues. Groups or individuals volunteered or were selected by their professor to participate in the public portion of the Great Debate. The remaining groups had to then attend the event.

“The event was a really cool concept,” said Meghan Harrigan, a freshman child development major. “I was honored to present about our topic and enjoyed listening to others’ views on mental health,”

Later that evening, students and community members came back to watch the debate.

The main topic was Laura’s Law, a statute allowing courts to force people with mental health issues to get treated. Treatment can range from therapy to being prescribed medications.

Before the debate started, every audience member was handed a clicker and asked to answer six questions. At the end of the debate, everyone answered the same six questions to see if their answers had changed.

“When we were able to use the clickers I was amazed at some people’s ideas, and their knowledge on the law,” said Jamaal Johnson, a freshman mechanical engineering major.

One side argued that Laura’s Law protects patients from harming themselves and other citizens. The opposing side argued that forcing someone into treatment is a violation of human rights. At the end, audience members were allowed to ask members of each side questions.

“I appreciated how every speaker had extensive knowledge on the subject they were talking about,” Johnson said. “Each person gave a compelling reason as to why or why not Laura’s Law was needed. It certainly was a controversial and intense battle.”


Megan Bowser can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_news on Twitter

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