Panel of UD alumni discuss breach of Capitol Hill

UD alumni working in D.C. discuss their experiences of the Capitol Hill breach, photo courtesy of SFBay.

Lauren Durham
Arts & Entertainment Editor

On Monday, March 8, a panel of University of Dayton alumni, all of whom currently work on Capitol Hill, discussed the breach that occurred Jan. 6. 

The event, titled The Breach of Capitol Hill, began with two pre-recorded interviews from Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) and Ohio Congressman David Joyce (R). After their remarks, panelists and UD alumni Dylan Moore ’15, Mason Di Palma ’17, Maggie Ward ’19 and Cierra Stewart ’20 answered questions and gave their accounts of what happened on Capitol Hill.

Joe Valenzano, chair of the University of Dayton Department of Communication and professor of communication, moderated the virtual event. 

The panel was organized by The Conversations on American Democracy Working Group composed of UD faculty and staff. Members include: Julius Amin, Nick Cardilino, Jason Combs, Amy Droege, Heidi Gauder, Havana Glover, Nancy Miller, Gov. Bob Taft, Group Chair Joe Valenzano and Sandra Yocum. 

The group was created in January per request of Dr. Eric Spina and Provost Paul Benson in hopes of further discussing democracy as an institution. According to Valenzano, UD’s core values of commitment to community and understanding and exploring the differences between one another constitute this sort of dialogue. 

In Congressman Joyce’s pre-recorded interview with Valenzano, he described how he was able to walk up Pennsylvania Ave. because traffic had been shut down on Jan. 6. Joyce was disappointed to see how the events of the day escalated. 

“All of a sudden you could see it. I have to tell you, I was crushed,” Joyce said in reference to when he first saw the rioters breach the Capitol. “It was a sad day for democracy.”

In order to move forward, Joyce stressed the importance of the nation acting and governing as one team instead of two split by political ideologies.

Sen. Brown echoed similar sentiments but stressed the need to correct falsities when necessary. 

“You can’t have a democracy unless you agree on facts,” Brown said. “It’s important that we call out things that are not true.”

He is eager to see Capitol Hill return to normal.

“I want this building and this government to be as open as possible, and we have work to do to make that happen,” Brown said.

The remainder of the webinar welcomed reactions and reflections from UD alumni who work on Capitol Hill.

Mason Di Palma ’17, communications director for Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (OH-16), was working from home Jan. 6. He was surprised when the events continued to escalate and disappointed to see a landmark of the nation in a negative light.

“This is not how we’re supposed to be doing this,” Di Palma said in reference to the attack on the Capitol. “We’re supposed to be that shiny city on the hill that other countries are looking at.”

Cierra Stewart ’20 was only beginning her second day as a staff assistant for Sen. Brown on the morning of Jan. 6. She talked about how she was consumed with virtual trainings and meetings for much of the day, but at a certain point, remote work from home became impossible. 

As a former intern on Capitol Hill with the University of Dayton’s DC Flyers program, Stewart could not help but imagine what working at the Capitol on Jan. 6 would have been like. 

She hopes that elected officials and constituents can think about more pressing issues moving forward, asking themselves and others, “What will actually help the people that are most in need right now?”

Dylan Moore ’15, legislative director for Rep. Larry Bucshon, M.D. (IN-8), was also working from home on Jan. 6. Twitter was a resource for him, and he told Bucshon to stay home for the day when the events continued to escalate.  

Moore spent the day worrying about colleagues, police officers and his boss. What he referred to as one of the longest, darkest days of his life ended around 5:15 a.m. the following morning after the votes were verified. 

“I’m hopeful we can get through this and get back to doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” Moore said. 

The fourth alumna, Maggie Ward ’19, was the only panelist to be physically on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6. As a legislative assistant for Rep. Mike Turner (OH-10), she had a fairly busy morning, even noting that seeing protests in front of the Capitol building is not unusual. 

 “I couldn’t even fathom what the day ended up being,” Ward said.

She hopes bipartisanship can continue in the way that it usually does, whether Americans see it reflected on the news or not. 

“Your political identity can be dynamic,” Ward said. “I don’t think Congress is the viper’s den the media has portrayed it to be.”

To conclude the event, Valenzano thanked the panelists for their generosity and time. 

“We need more Flyers in DC and more Flyers in places that make a difference,” Valenzano said. “You guys make UD proud.”

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