Elise May, Staff Writer
You may have heard of JSA, also known as Junior State of America, through the announcements or in an assembly, but do you really know what it’s all about? Gwen York, the president of JSA, defines the mission of the club by saying “we want to foster intellectual and relational growth in our community through political activism and constructive discussion.” In fact, JSA is a nation-wide, completely student run organization and is focused on activism and debate. Gwen explains that they carry out their mission, “by giving students a space to freely and respectfully share their beliefs, while also giving them the opportunity to learn about different viewpoints.” The club is focused on respectfully debating, having empathy, and focusing on understanding others.
Each Wednesday during lunch, the members of JSA gather in Mr. Van Dyke’s room to debate on a popular topic. Two students sign up to prepare and argue against their opponent while everyone else votes on what they think, asks questions, and maybe even make a statement themselves. The debate topics range from serious and solemn to lighthearted and funny. For example, you could either debate if TikTok should be abolished, or if the death penalty should still exist. Either way, the goal is to come together and have fun while learning and thinking about something in a new light. Another common practice in JSA meetings is to have an open floor on a certain topic where anyone can say what they believe about the topic, ask questions of others, and defend their beliefs. These are called Thought Talks, and are often very upbeat and engaging. JSA meetings are never dull, whether it is an engaging debate, a thought provoking Thought Talk, or just a lighthearted discussion.
Being a club largely focused on the political aspects of the world, each year students run for president, vice-president, and secretary-treasurer, both on the school and regional level. This year at CCS, Gwen York is the president, Jenna Miller the vice-president, and Miles Caines is the secretary-treasurer. However, the club also has some smaller specialized leadership roles. There is a Director of Debate, focused on writing and deciding on the debate topic each week; Director of Expansion, focused on getting more schools in the area involved; Director of Activism, focused on getting people in the whole school to participate in events centered on getting awareness to certain topics; and more.
Activism is not a thing taken lightly either, as each year JSA holds multiple events. You may remember Fight Apathy from years past in which students write something they believe in on a sticker in order to encourage discussion and do what the name of the game says: fight apathy. Also, JSA members plan to hold the annual voter registration drive in hopes of getting new voters ready for elections, because people's voices really do matter. Additionally, the club holds drives for various items to be donated to different charities around Chattanooga.
Twice a year, though, something special happens. Students from different schools’ JSA chapters all over the east come together in Ohio for a big debate competition. CCS is the farthest school from the conference and has to drive 7-8 hour, spending the first night in a church. Though that may not sound especially appealing, senior Emma Sprayberry says, “Going to Ohio is really fun because you get to hang out with your friends on the ride there. Sleeping the church is definitely a bonding experience, and I have a lot of fun.” The convention itself is two days long, with eight different “periods” either with a debate, a Thought Talk, a mock Supreme Court case, or something else of that nature. Concerning this Emma says, “The convention is exciting because it provides you with the opportunity to meet new people who may not share the same opinions as you, but are still willing to listen to different points of view and discuss important, controversial topics.” Multiple years, CCS has been the school with the most attendance despite the extra long drive.
A new thing the JSA leadership has been pursuing in recent years is also trying to get the middle school involved. Two years ago, the previous president of the club started doing a separate middle school JSA during lunch on Fridays. It is primarily the responsibility of the vice president, and focused more on education of certain topics that middle schoolers may not know a lot about. So far, both the middle and high school sections have been doing very well.
JSA is a club for all people. No one should feel discouraged from becoming a regular member or just stopping by one week to see everyone in action; I promise you won’t regret it. Because of the open and encouraging nature of the club, everyone should feel free to present their own beliefs equally and be heard, but not to be scared of a little defensive challenge. JSA hopes to give everyone a voice so as to help people become more open-minded and prepared to defend their own beliefs after hearing new opinions every meeting. Remember, meetings are almost every week on Wednesdays during lunch in Mr. Van Dyke’s room, hope to see you there.