I have just returned from the ACPA mid-year leadership meeting in Washington, DC, site of the 2000 convention. In the midst of many --sometimes seemingly endless!-- meetings to deal with association business we had the opportunity to hear and interact with one of the most motivating speakers I have heard in a long time. Dr. Kathleen Allen, Vice President of Student Development at the College of St. Benedict, spoke to us about leadership and changing organizational culture. She reminded us that change occurs slowly and in stages, using the metaphor of birds on a wire who wonít take off after one of their peers --though disturbed by the movement-- until that lone bird has taken off and landed several times. I think it is easy for us to lose sight of the fact that it often takes many "go-rounds" before others are ready to join us in changing. Dr. Allen also suggested that the "critical mass" needed to change is just the square root of the target group -- a much smaller number than we often think we need.
Perhaps the most powerful part to me of her message was Kathleen's discussion of the empowering vs. constraining roles which we can play in the process of change, and of the effects of cynicism vs. hope. She pointed out that when we look at our profession and campuses (and I would add students) with a "woe is we" attitude we undermine our own ability to promote change. I know how common it is for student affairs professionals to slide into a disempowering stance of feeling like the institutional "step-child." I also see those of us in counseling going a step further, feeling like the ways in which our work is different from that of many of our colleagues leaves us even less understood and appreciated. I suppose it is the ways in which these beliefs reflect some true things that make them so influential. They also function like quicksand, sucking us in and leaving us truly hindered in our ability to act.
Kathleen shared her belief that without hope there is no reason to change, and I was reminded of how often that theme emerges in therapy. Many of the students we see have been in pain for so long that it is difficult --if not impossible-- for them to feel hopeful about a future which looks different. I canít even begin to guess at how many times over the years I have invited students to "borrow" my hope for the future, held that hope for them until they could do so themselves. Such a small thing, but I have seen so many students grab hold of that and use my vision of future possibilities while they re-build their own. I believe that we bring this strength not only to our work as counselors and therapists but to the student affairs profession as well.
Those of us who are trained in counseling, psychology and social work have a deep understanding of human development, comfort in working with process and interpersonal sensitivity which enriches the groups with which we interact. We bring a different voice to the table. One of the things which I value about ACPA is that here we are sitting at the table with our colleagues from across the range of student affairs areas. We have the opportunity to help understand and shape our approach to a broad range of issues, as seen in such forms as the recent re-vitalization of the Campus Violence Project Task Force, of which I am a part. And as we do this within our professional organization we help strengthen all of our abilities to do so on our own campuses.
If we can serve as containers holding and voicing a vision of a different type of academy, community, professional organization, then we will help others to move forward with us, one bird at a time. I wish you all a wonderful --and empowered-- new year.
Heidi Levine, Ph.D.
Commission VII Chair
Center for Counseling & Student Development
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