"First we need to believe it's possible"--getting unstuck and beginning to co-create

Liberal arts university in the southern US

The challenge: How do we begin creating healthy patterns in a fragmented, cynical, change-resistant community with 160 years of proud tradition?

As leaders in this university considered their place in the future of The South, they realized, “We need to get better at change.” As a beginning, they chose the pressing challenge of social life on campus—afflicted with too much substance abuse and too many aggressions based on gender and race. But even getting started felt daunting. Divisions and mistrust exist between administration, faculty, staff and students, and a history of failed attempts at direct intervention had created an atmosphere of cynicism. 

After a program of listening, we convened student activists, Greek organization leaders, faculty, deans, police, and staff members to engage with the complexities of campus culture. The arc of activities was based on Theory U, and drew from Art of Hosting, Liberating Structures, and Open Space. Through the experience, a group of forty people—representative of campus diversity and power—experienced a profound change of mood, from “we’re stuck” to “we are agents of change.” Based on that beginning and programs that build their ability to facilitate collaboration, this group continues to experiment their way forward. 

“I was immediately surprised, because I’ve never seen this combination of people in the same room. I was skeptical because I’m used to feeling like administration usually point the finger of blame at students. Now I see we’re all feeling the same way, we’re all caught up in the same issues, and I believe we can work together.” – Student leader

“This wasn’t a workshop. This was the beginning of a movement.” – Faculty member