New Associate Dean of Students TEDS/TGS Builds Community

Jana Holiday newsroom crop

We recently sat down with alumna Jana Holiday, the new Associate Dean of Students for Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Trinity Graduate School (as of fall 2013), to ask her about her role, why she came back to Trinity, and what goals she has for student development.

So you’re the Associate Dean of Students. Give me in a nutshell what this means.

[laughter] I still haven’t figured out how to do that yet. There are a couple of areas I’m responsible for, such as residence life and acting as a go-between for any students who need academic accommodations. I also do whatever Felix [Theonugraha, Dean of Students] tells me to do, which is great. But, in general, I handle student care issues; I come alongside students and try to help them with anything that affects their life and academics.

When you’re not helping students, what do you do? Tell me a bit more about yourself.

Well, I’m from Silver Springs, MD originally. I went to Cedarville for college, lived in Ohio for a couple years, and worked in Germany for a couple years as a short-term missionary at Black Forest Academy. I moved back to Maryland for two years and then I moved out here for the MA / Philosophy of Religion. I graduated from that in 2007 and spent six years at Lakeview Covenant Church in Northbook as Director of Community Life. So I worked with spiritual formation, small groups, and some logistical and administrative stuff. And now I’m here.

I like photography; that’s a big hobby. Since my family’s all far away, I spend a lot of time talking to them on the phone; I’m the oldest of four kids so there’s a lot to keep up with. And I like to travel.

What was your thesis about?

Something called social virtue epistemology; I did a social virtue analysis of Stanley Hauerwas’ A Community of Character. I basically put together a rough outline of the epistemology of a biblical community, so this included a corporate aspect and also a spiritual aspect. I also did an MA in Christian Studies while I was here, and I looked at spiritual formation in a small-group, multiethnic community.

Since you did your master’s in a traditionally male-dominated field, do you feel that Trinity is a place that welcomes women and has opportunities for women to be full contributors to classes and campus life?

My experience as a female student at Trinity was generally very positive and welcoming. Much of my adult life has been spent as somewhat of a minority–both gender-wise at Trinity and ethnic-wise as the church where I worked, and I’ve been very thankful for those experiences because of how the Lord has shaped me through them. The things I pay attention to are different now than they used to be. I’ve learned how to be a better listener, and how to advocate in mutually beneficial ways. Most importantly, I’ve learned to embrace the seasons of feeling like an outsider because that’s what Jesus did and I’ve seen how God uniquely reveals Himself to me in those times. My hope for all of us at Trinity is that we would be able to receive the gifts of the ‘other’ and be able to worship the Lord because of them.

What is it about this position or community that made you want to come back?

I realized that I am a relational academic. I love academic environments; I’m a very curious, learning-type person, but I also realized that I really like people a lot, and interacting with students and doing the whole formation thing. So this position is a great fit for me and how I’m wired. I was really thankful for those years in full-time ministry, but it’s great to be here now.

What are some of your favorite parts of this job?

I love it when a student comes in here with a problem—maybe they failed a class and don’t know what to do, or maybe they’re overwhelmed with life and not sure how to get through the next couple week. Then I can help them problem-solve, pray with them, and provide general pastoral care as much as I can, as well as practical directions like, “Go to this office and fill out this form.” It’s practical but also caring for the whole person.

I notice some pretty great titles on your bookshelf. What are some of your favorite or most influential books?

Esther Meek’s Longing to Know – when I read it, I was kind of angry that I didn’t write it. Not that I could have when I read it. It’s an everyman’s approach to epistemology. She’s genius; she describes her relationship with her auto mechanic as a metaphor for her relationship with God, the ultimate knower. It’s so creative and a great explanation of epistemology that’s also very formative spiritually.

Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace was really formative in helping me think through what does it mean to be in community and how I should function as a leader in community. Volf is just genius, and has such a powerful life. I also love his The End of Memory; it’s really powerful. I’m probably forgetting some, but that’s a good start.

What is some advice that you find yourself giving TEDS students often?

Well, it’s only been three months, but I think I tell students a lot, look, it’s OK to just stop and listen to God. I think we have a very doer-focused campus and students don’t always remember that they need to just stop and calm down and pay attention to God, because there’s always a book to read and a paper to write or whatever.

What are some goals of yours for this next year?

This sounds like a really huge goal, so I say it with a definite measure of humility; but I’ve been thinking a lot about where Trinity is in terms of community life and where we need to go. I think there’s a little bit of a consumer mentality—I think Trinity is no different than anywhere else [in this]; we all come into community thinking, who am I going to hang out with, what am I going to be comfortable with? But I think there needs to be a shift: there is a community here, and how can I jump in and contribute to that?

I would really like for Trinity to feel like a small town in mid-America—maybe you don’t know a lot about everyone, but there are greetings that you readily offer and you feel like you belong. I think a lot of people tend to focus on not fitting in or being lonely. I think God uses loneliness, so I don’t want to necessarily eradicate it, but I want there to be a good biblical small-town feel, because we’re that about that size.

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