The Yale Political Union (YPU) is a debate society at Yale University founded in 1934 by Professor and later Yale University President Alfred Whitney Griswold. The YPU’s structure was inspired both by the preexisting Oxford and Cambridge Unions and the party system of the defunct Yale Unions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which were in turn inspired by the great literary debating societies of Linonia and Brothers in Unity. Members of the YPU have reciprocal rights at our sister societies in England, the Cambridge Union and the Oxford Union.
The Union is the central forum for political engagement and debate at Yale and is one of Yale’s largest student organization. Each week, the Union hosts prominent individuals as guests for debate. Throughout our rich history, we have hosted countless figureheads and thought leaders, including Ronald Reagan, Joe Biden, Lady Bird Johnson, Milton Friedman, Jimmy Carter, George Stephanopoulos, Margaret Mead, Noam Chomsky, George McGovern, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Walter Cronkite, among others.
Over the years, the Union has played a key role on Yale’s campus, oftentimes taking controversial stands on both national issues and international affairs. During the years leading up to America’s entry into World War II, the Union greatly added to the discussion of whether the United States should fight the Nazis, challenging the policy positions of the then-powerful America First Committee.
Although the Union largely struggled in the 70s due to the loss of its headquarters, it experienced great success under former President Fareed Zakaria. Under Zakaria’s leadership, Union membership tripled to nine hundred during a term highlighted by a nationally televised debate. By the end of 1987, active membership rolls comprised over one thousand members, nearly a quarter of the entire student body at Yale.
Once the only organization devoted to political debate on campus, the Union still remains the largest and primary forum for oratory and political dialogue, boasting such prominent alumni as William F. Buckley, Jr., McGeorge Bundy, and John Kerry, among many others.
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