By Derek Kennedy
As Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Activities, Lisa Holliday’s engagement in student life at Willamette is unparalleled. She directly advises the Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU), fraternity and sorority Life and Wulapalooza, among a host of other things. Her breadth of involvement in student affairs allows her to have a comprehensive understanding of campus, which is complemented by the institutional memory that comes with her 19 years at Willamette.
Holliday’s background equips her to be a particularly cognizant mentor to Willamette students, as she is an alumna of the University of Washington and Bowling Green State University. Her experience with public schools affords her both perspective and awareness.
“For me, when I was looking at colleges a private university like Willamette was not even something that I considered, because I thought it would be too expensive,” Holliday noted.
Holliday explained that this understanding gives her compassion and empathy with families and students who are worried about the financial aspect of Willamette. She said that this allows her to, “explain the benefits of a place like Willamette, through what I’ve observed with the students. At the same time, I think that there are benefits also to the education that I received at the University of Washington that you can’t receive here.”
The majority of Willamette students don’t understand firsthand the experience of a larger institution, and Holliday’s experience allows her to impart a certain perspective to her advisees that they might not otherwise grapple with. She serves as a reminder that Willamette is not the only kind of worthwhile institution of higher education, and is able to draw on a broad background to instill best practices among the students that she works with.
Indeed, this perspective has worked well for the Willamette community. Take, for instance, the Greek community. Looking back on her time at Willamette.
“Today, the fraternity and sorority program is stronger than when I arrived,” Holliday asserted. “I don’t think that we were following national best practices, and I definitely think that there was more of an adversarial relationship between the chapters and the University.” Observing this sort of improvement has shaped her perspective for the future of Greek life.
When asked about the current status of the Greek community, Holliday posited, “We’re at a crossroads. When I first came to Willamette, I wasn’t sure a university this size needed fraternities and sororities. What I’ve realized is the fraternities and sororities provide valuable leadership opportunities and also the community piece, the brotherhood and the sisterhood, is very valuable at a place like Willamette.”
Overall, the impression Holliday gives about Greek Life is one of improvement and one with a promising future, but one that must be worked for and not taken for granted.
This guarded optimism translates into the way that Holliday views the student body and the institution as a whole. When asked about the student body, she responded, “In terms of academic accomplishments, I would say that the student body hasn’t changed much. Ever since I started here, I’ve felt like they were an academically very strong group of students, also passionate about their involvement outside of the classroom, whether that be in the community or with their student organizations or with research.”
This view of a scholastically gifted and engaged student body is a widely held one, though Holliday juxtaposed it with some other observations.
“Students work more than they used to nowadays, it’s very common for students who have a Resident [Advisor] position to have additional jobs, and it’s very common here for students to be having two jobs, three jobs, and still be struggling financially, and I would say that’s something that’s changed in my time here.”
Holliday empathized with the fact that the demand on students’ time is increasing with such financial obligations, which echoes her ability to commiserate with students worried about the economic factors of being a Willamette student. However, this acknowledgment of difficulty is met with an equal measure of optimism. As Holliday put it, “It is a challenging time, but I’m confident, and I’m hopeful.”