Putting the Community Back in Glendale College
by Michael Ritterbrown
A funny thing happened at the Master Planning Committee (Team A) meeting on November 16: everyone agreed.
It happened during a discussion of planning themes – concepts around which annual planning might be shaped. The question that came forward was whether we could adopt a single direction that would allow for consensus in our planning.
What followed was an intensely focused and unified discussion about the state of the college, its values, and the direction we need to move. There was a sense of investment and urgency. Most surprising, perhaps, was the feeling that all along we’ve been in agreement about many of our core values. We just haven’t been talking about, or acting on, that agreement.
The initial shift in discussion began with the idea of healing. It was agreed that actions and discourse at the college have become particularly acrimonious over the last few years and have undermined our sense of trust in each other and our ability to work collaboratively. And, at this time, what we need most as a college is to heal. But healing is a result, not an action. We agreed it was imperative to identify what we could do to create an environment in which healing would take place.
So what has caused this damage? Part of it is circumstance: the ongoing fiscal train wreck in which we are passengers. Ultimately though, this circumstance is more a catalyst than the problem itself. It has caused an atmosphere of uncertainty, frustration, and fear. But the real problem is that we have lost our connection to one another, our desire to support and respect each other.
What then is the solution? The recognition of a problem is the beginning; the solution lies in changing our actions, finding ways to create unity rather than division, and growing a culture of support and appreciation. What we need more of is community. A number of suggestions were put forward at the meeting, among them the possibility of sponsoring events such as faculty lunches, campus barbecues, and town halls. There was agreement this could promote community, but that we needed to address directly the central concepts of trust and support to create an atmosphere conducive to healing.
But ultimately the group agreed that it comes down to one thing: us. We need to take direct responsibility for creating connection. We should be speaking to one another across our campuses in the same way we spoke in the Team A meeting: openly, with the intention of creating solutions. We should communicate with our colleagues about our desire for community, about how we all might work to bring the campus together. In the end, this is the heart of the issue: we need to come together. Not just at scheduled events, but in a sustained and sustainable way, within the ecosystem that is the community; we need to talk to each other in our offices, during and after meetings, in line at the coffee cart, as we pass each other in the halls and on the walkways.
We need to begin discussing our common goals and differences with an eye to strengthening the community and finding lasting solutions. We need to listen respectfully and create an environment where open and productive discussion is encouraged. We need to act on ideas that bring us together and help us serve our students and the college more effectively. We need to give one another permission to try and fail, and we need to support each other’s success.
There’s no reason we can’t do these things. If the Team A meeting is any indication, there’s a strong desire among the members of our community to move beyond the things that separate us. Real community depends on all its members; it happens if we make it happen. The power is in its collective will.
It’s been a long time since I was in a meeting where I heard such universal consensus. The hope we felt was tangible. Some had questions about how we might come together, but none questioned the benefit or the necessity of taking action to make things better.
We won’t solve all our problems in a day. We won’t solve all our problems ever. But that remarkable meeting made it clear the most important thing is for us to move forward together.