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One-on-One Interview with Dr. David Holiday: Symposium on Democracy

Written by T Kinkley, Campus News Writer

Dr. Holiday posing for a portrait in his office. (Courtesy: Regan Carlson)
MAR. 8 – The Symposium on Democracy is an event that many students and staff praise at Washington and Jefferson. Though students are given a day off from classes, it is not a day off from learning. Students can attend educational meetings that discuss topics that are often not covered in everyday classes.  

I got to sit down with Dr. David Holiday, Director of the Center for Ethical Leadership. Dr. Holiday had a lot to do with the planning and creation of this year’s Symposium on Democracy. He was the chair of the faculty and staff planning committee, as well as a faculty advisor to the Student Advisory Committee. He expressed his excitement about helping to organize the Symposium, especially after seeing the Symposium’s success last year.  

Dr. Holiday also had a unique perspective on the event since he is not a citizen of the United States and does not have voting rights here. He mentioned feeling like an outside facilitator.  
Dr. Holiday also mentioned his priorities regarding the Symposium. He wanted the Symposium to be led by students first, faculty and staff second. He wanted students to speak about what they wanted to so there could be more energy and involvement in the events.  

We proceeded to discuss planning the event, an extensive undertaking. When asked how long the event took to plan, his easiest answer was six to eight months. It began in the summer to get the staff and faculty planning committee together, then asking that committee to nominate students to the student advisory committee. The next step was picking the theme of the entire Symposium in early fall, as well as picking the keynote speakers around that time.  “It’s planned all through fall, with almost everything in place around Thanksgiving time,” said Dr. Holiday regarding the timeline of events.  

It’s planned all through fall, with almost everything in place around Thanksgiving time.” said Dr. Holiday regarding the timeline of events.  

Even in details such as planning times, Dr. Holiday used prior feedback from students and rearranged programs to better-fit students’ schedules. Dr. Holiday believes that compressing the event into one day and moving the start time back slightly allowed students to attend more events. For context, the event started earlier and began on Tuesday night rather than Wednesday morning last year. The changes this year allowed for fewer conflicts between the events and classes, practices, etc. that took place during the kickoff event last year.  “Students were less in the position of having to make a choice between catching up or getting ahead on schoolwork and attending things.”   

“Students were less in the position of having to make a choice between catching up or getting ahead on schoolwork and attending things.”  

He said he had heard from many people, including staff, faculty, and students, that there were multiple events they could not attend that they would have liked to; other things were stacked simultaneously.  

“That’s a kind of an embarrassment of riches thing; I want to have a program that’s full of enough good stuff that a bunch of people feels like ‘I wish I could have also gone to that.’”.  

Finally, Dr. Holiday discussed what he hoped that people would take away from this year’s Symposium. He said that he wanted people to have genuine conversations rather than attendees hearing things they already knew. He also wanted to see a reinforcement or bolder sense of students’ own agency.  

“Everyone’s got their own perspective. Everyone’s got their own identities. Everyone’s got their own backgrounds.” said Dr. Holiday. “But everyone also has a stake in these conversations we’re having about issues of justice and society and democracy.” 

“Everyone’s got their own perspective. Everyone’s got their own identities. Everyone’s got their own backgrounds.” said Dr. Holiday. “But everyone also has a stake in these conversations we’re having about issues of justice and society and democracy.” 
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