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2023 Symposium on Democracy Garners Wide Turnout and Spreads Message of Hope

Written By Nickolas Bartel, Political and Current Events Staff Writer


Former Republican U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger gives the Closing 2023 W&J Symposium on Democracy Keynote Address (Courtesy Regan Carlson).

FEB. 24, 2023 - As the last student left the closing keynote talk on Feb. 22, Dr. Holiday and the Symposium on Democracy’s organizing committee can take a deep breath before preparing again for itnext year. This year, the theme centered around justice and democracy with discussions on reproductive justice during the Abortion and Reproductive Healthcare Access session led by Dr. Mary Ryan, economic justice with the Center for Coalfield Justice’s workshop, learning about the causes and impact of poverty with Dr. Tiffani Gottschall and staff from Blueprints, among many other panels exploring these core themes of justice and democracy. These breakout sessions proved immensely popular as the Washington &Jefferson College community filled the Sportswashing and Navigating the Social Structures around Poverty panels' rooms.

Students attend a W&J 2023 Symposium on Democracy Breakout Session regarding Sports, Ethics, and Society. (Courtesy Regan Carlson)
The high turnout in the Religion and Violence breakout session led to it moving into the larger Yost Auditorium. Participants there had an open discussion on how religion is weaponized and distorted to promote violence. A key idea from this session was that religions have hundreds of millions of followers with a wide diversity of what their religion means to them. So, when religious-based violence occurs, the actions and beliefs of one do not speak for an entire religion.

Students also reflected on their experiences with justice and democracy at W&J. At the Black Student Union’s breakout event, BSU panel members candidly spoke about their experiences as Black students on a predominantly white college campus. This special event added to their annual celebrations of Black History Month, which they are closing out this past Saturday with the Black Legends Ball. In another breakout session, members of the newly formed Progress House Tthemed Ccommunity explained the importance of this community, the views on the state of progress at W&J, and the reasons its members joined. They also expressed hope for the community’s future to welcome more students of all backgrounds looking for an inclusive living space.
" At the Black Student Union’s breakout event, BSU panel members candidly spoke about their experiences as Black students on a predominantly white college campus."

In the Promoting Democratic Accountability in Politics & Society roundtable session led by political science Professor Dr. Kersting, participants reflected on their own experiences with recognizing and addressing political misinformation in casual conversations with friends, family and strangers. Participants also learned important advice throughout the conversation, such as actively listening, ensuring that all parties understand what the other has said and acknowledging their concerns in these discussions. The exchange also addressed the value of respecting the other person in the discussion as a fellow human being and working to find common ground.

The two keynote addresses echoed this message of hope and individual agency in promoting democracy and justice. Representative Adam Kinzinger suggested that people should “make a friend who thinks differently and challenges their own beliefs.” When talking with someone who thinks differently than he might, Paul Loeb said, “I think you try to find [and] have common ground as much as you can.” In an exclusive Red & Black interview, Loeb said that engaging with people is “not about fake civility” and that you need to “point out the blunt truth.” Kinzinger agreed in his speech, saying, “truth is truth, period.” Loeb added that we must also “treat people with respect” and understand “the genesis of this opinion.” He continued that a benefit of college is that the “more you can put a human face [to other students], the better,” as it “allows people to see past the demonization” of others.

" In an exclusive Red & Black interview, Loeb said that engaging with people is 'not about fake civility' and that you need to 'point out the blunt truth.' "

The W&J community heard and engaged with stories from their peers and experts about discrimination, alienation for fighting for their values and identity and ways to help address these issues. This year the organizing committee engaged students in the planning process. That decision and the resulting high turnout at the sessions show the great success the College has when students and administrators can work to create an engaging and exciting campus culture. The success of democracy and justice is greatest when the voice of those served are heard and engaged by those in charge.
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