How Might We…Change?

On a recent campus visit, we were meeting with a committee made up of students faculty and administrators. After we had gone through the room doing introductions, set an agenda for the meeting and so forth, a faculty member raised their hand and inquired if he could ask a procedural question before we got started. The question was

“There’s a saying in advertising and business, ‘Culture eats strategy for lunch.’ How can we actually change the culture here? Have you seen it happen before? I’m not asking because I don’t want that to happen, it really does. But how can you even fathom changing a centuries-old culture on a campus which is so split in its opinions?”

No one spoke. Silence ate the room for nearly half a minute. That is a really big question to ask, but it’s one that most campuses wonder quietly, as a new wave of student change-makers find their legs in campus society.

The way we answer that question is very calculated, but not for the reasons you think. Imagine you’re sitting in a room with a diverse group of people; ethnicity, socioeconomic status, political leanings, academic interests, and position. The tension in this room is the reason that the institution brought you onto the project. Your purpose is to be an objective listener, to learn from and elevate empathy within groups groups of people, before reporting back with themes and recommendations.

If you were to tell the students in the room that they are not likely to see the effects of any change, cultural or administrative, in their tenure at the college then they might not participate. If you were to tell the faculty that they have to change their schedules, make a concerted effort to be a part of the lives of their students, not just in the classroom, there might be walkouts. If you were to tell the administration that the students demands aren’t so crazy after all, you might not collect a check.

Not to say that any of these groups are inherently at fault for anything. However, its difficult to be in the position of objective listener, except it’s not.

Creating change anywhere is like piloting an ocean liner. If you turn too sharply, you are likely to break the helm. If you turn too slowly, you might miss the port entirely. If you don’t turn at all, your passengers will eventually get in lifeboats and row away.

All of that is to arrive at this key point. Change is possible. 

But it won’t be easy. But it will be worth it. But it will take buy-in from multiple groups and communities. But a unified campus isn’t the worst thing, is it?

We need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Vulnerability is a strength, and one we need to leverage to positively impact our campus communities and future students. Asking tough questions, not knowing answers, and accepting accountability for our actions but improving are all parts of this process. The only way to truly throw caution to the wind to be the change you wish to see in the world, is to lean in.

Lean in with us, make an impact, bring change for learning.