Student protests of racial discrimination from the University of Missouri to the venerable Ivy League strongholds, Yale and Princeton, have yielded dramatic results. In the wake of hurricane force social winds instigated by the shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, MO and fanned by a revival of student activism unseen since the 60’s, there has been a forced resignation of Missouri’s President, a mea culpa from Yale’s President for on-campus racist statements and insults, and lately, revelations of racist comments by none other than Woodrow Wilson, a former US President and founder of Princeton.
Mix in the growing anti-immigrant sentiment brought on in light of the Paris attacks, and the cauldron stew is sizzling. Palpable is the tension over how an inclusive society that celebrates diversity on one hand yet demonstrates that it fails all too often in implementation has been brought into sharp focus. That tension has landed in the laps of our most revered education institutions.
Spilling over into the mix is the increased dissatisfaction and what is viewed as lip service not only to racial justice but general campus unrest as demonstrated in the “culture of fear” cited by faculty and staff in a survey of campus life by Northern Kentucky University. Even seasoned media CEOs such as NBC News President Deborah Turness stumbled before a congressional committee for referring to “illegals” instead of the correct term “undocumented immigrants.”
In today’s hyper media enriched environment, themes emerge that spell crisis and increasingly wreak havoc and often lasting damage to revered institutions. The good news is that to the extent we can take measures to face these thematic moments, the better off we will be. The good news is that in an age of transparency, nothing is hidden from view. The puzzle is why we as leaders continue to act as though our biggest problems can be swept under the rug and business will go on as usual.
So, how do you ready yourself for the high winds? What is called out for is solid PREPARATION far in advance of the storm when the coconuts begin to fly. Be prepared in advance for the coming challenges and for seizing opportunities to be ahead of the curve as best you can.
As the 60’s anthem says, “somethin’s happenin’ here.” More than ever leaders must peer around every corner in order to know what is “here.” Be more aware of the issues that confront us daily and how they may spill over to your institution. Be proactive not reactive. Examine your institution’s culture and thus its Purpose thus providing the core strength that enables you to weather any storm. Have you done campus surveys and more importantly, taken their results seriously.
Plan appropriately with strategies for addressing issues well before the boiling point by lining up action steps with who you say you are. Finally, develop a strong sense of Perspective. Jewish weddings include a ritual of the breaking of a glass. The shattering on what is arguably the best day of the young couple’s life reminds us and them that the world has always had its jagged edges. It is our job as leaders to look down upon the pieces and parts of the shattered glass and provide the leadership to put them together in a way that “puts your money where your mouth is.”