2019 Symposium

Symposium on Democracy logoCourageous Conversations: Civil Discourse in Divisive Times

Why is civility so often lacking in our public discourse, especially when strongly held opinions are expressed? The tenor of our debates in the public square, on cable TV, and on social media can deepen distrust and further polarize all parties. Yet it can be easier to talk at each other than with each other. It takes courage to invite and listen to another point of view, to constructively seek to understand, even when agreement is not possible. It has been said that courageous conversations are rare because they are the ones we know we need to have, and know we are not having.

Can we voice our views passionately and persuasively without resorting to ad hominem attacks or unnecessarily divisive tactics? Our 2019 Symposium on Democracy explored how courageous conversations, characterized by civil discourse, are essential to a healthy democratic society.


Morning Keynote: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, "Our Short Time on Earth Together"
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the eldest child of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the former lieutenant governor of Maryland. Townsend’s presentation, “Our Short Time on Earth Together," reflected on her father’s legacy. She currently works with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

Morning Breakout Sessions

  • Media Panel: "Roles and Responsibilities of News Media in Informing and Fostering Civil Discourse"
    Featuring: Campbell Robertson, National Correspondent for The New York Times; Liz Rogers, executive editor of the Washington Observer-Reporter; Patrick Doyle, news director for 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh's NPR News Station
  • Panel Discussion: "Activism and Possibilities of Civil Discourse"
    Featuring: Carl Redwood, Chair of the Board of the Hill District Consensus Group; Monica Ruiz, executive director of Casa San Jose; Dan Galvin, a local organizer for Veterans For Peace
  • W&J College Conflict & Resolution Studies Program: "Developing Civil Discourse to Address Global Climate Disruption"
    Featuring: Professor Robert East's CRS 310 students

Lunchtime Keynote: Kerwin Swint, Ph.D., "Surviving the Era of 'Gotcha' Politics: The Past and Future of Civil Discourse in America"
Kerwin Swint, Ph.D., is the Interim Dean for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Kennesaw State University. He is the author of "Mudslingers: The 25 Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time."

Afternoon Breakout Sessions

  • Robert Muth, Ph.D., assistant professor of mathematics, Washington & Jefferson College: "The Mathematics of Gerrymandering"
  • Felicia McKinney, Social Media Manager for Enrollment Marketing, Point Park University: "How Social Media Influences Conversation"
  • W&J College Student Government Association: "Deliberative Dialogue: Putting Civil Discourse into Practice"
  • W&J College Conflict & Resolution Studies Program: “Conflict and Communication: Paths to Unity”
    Featuring: Professor Richard Easton's CRS 101 students

TOM Talks, hosted by the Washington Fellows

Evening Keynote: Robert Shetterly, "An Artist's Journey into History, Democracy, Power and Reality"
Robert Shetterly is an artist best known for his portrait series, "Americans Who Tell the Truth."

Quotes on Democracy

Funding for the Symposium on Democracy is generously provided by the Guy Woodward, Jr. Foundation.