Course offers real lesson


As I journey through my initial year as president of Davis & Elkins College, I continue to experience “firsts.”  Recently, I slipped into the back row of a session of Congress … D&E style.

During three weeks in January, the college offers a Winter Symposium, required for all first-year students.  This three-week course is an immersive opportunity in democracy, designed to be intensive and experiential.  Led by D&E faculty and staff, as well as guest presenters, students become participants in our unique system of government. They experience firsthand the glories and the foibles of a representative democracy. Lining up on opposing sides of a contemporary issue, they must choose if their debate will be civil discourse or partisan rancor.  The importance and vitality of an informed electorate and an invested populace come into focus for student members of the House and Senate. Passion emerges as participants move to the microphone to speak for or against an amendment, or to urge passage or defeat of a bold proposal.

As the “House of Representatives” at D&E debated a bill relating to the deployment of U.S. forces in the fight against ISIS, the “Senate” wrestled with pharmaceutical companies that gouge vulnerable consumers needing life-saving medication. As the “student lawmakers” learned parliamentary procedure through Robert’s Rules of Orders, they also were learning about the core of that which they believe, the essence of ethics and morality, and the unwieldy but necessary process of arriving at consensus when living in a society of people with differing values, opinions and agendas. These are the valuable lessons of life that will serve these young men and women well beyond their years on the D&E campus.  In fact, these are the lessons that have served our country well for more than two centuries.

I choose not to use this weekly communication to espouse my own political views; however, I strongly support the education of our students in the issues of our time, understanding the workings of our political system, the importance of participatory democracy and an appreciation of the role of civil discourse in our society.  Students at Davis & Elkins College are experiencing all of this and then some.

Whether or not any of these students ever end up in the actual Congress, State House or City Council chamber, their experiential lessons from this Winter Symposium will make them more informed and engaged citizens. It is my sincere hope that this experience will also help them lead the way within our country to a return to spirited but civil discourse in our politics. As our students are learning, we can disagree with one another on policy and yet still respect one another as fellow citizens of our democracy.  With the present state of our political discourse in the United States, I long for the lessons of the “D&E Congress” to become the norm for our land.

Our students give me hope as the journey continues. …

Chris A Wood is president at Davis & Elkins College.