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Collaborating to Increase Access and Opportunity

By Alfonso Sintjago, Vice President of the UMN Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and Member of the 2012 - 13 CIL Student Leadership Team

With Election Day just a few days away, it is hard not to contemplate the implications of ideas promoted by the Center for Integrative Leadership (CIL) towards the presidential election.

CIL encourages the importance of finding solutions by working together across sectors, cultures, and geographical boundaries to promote collective action and achieve the common good. The Center emphasizes inclusion of all stakeholders, agreement of shared purpose, and systemic thinking by considering the interdependencies of all related factors.

This also means deconstructing assumptions and analyzing multiple hypotheses, developing shared meaning through constructive dialogue, and encouraging an innovative mindset which intertwines different possibilities when addressing a problem.

Yet practicing integrative leadership is not easy. To the contrary, it can be messy and complicated. It is illustrated by the upcoming election, which is on all our minds. In a few days, about half of the country will be disappointed. Yet whomever wins this election, America would benefit the most by working together to address common challenges such as the national debt and unemployment. It is the people more than government who will determine the future of this nation. Hopefully, come November 7th, we will start thinking of how to best bring about positive change together.

On a local scale, the University's Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA) includes members with contrasting viewpoints, with ten councils representing fields from law to medicine. GAPSA has adopted a collaborative approach this year by passing resolutions which address agreed upon concerns, while encouraging open and constructive dialog of topics that could be considered controversial, such as the current state marriage and voter restriction amendments, and the state and federal versions of the DREAM Act. As Andrew McNally, the VP of the Council of Graduate Students (COGS) contends, there are many "big picture" initiatives that we could address before getting stuck on more trivial concerns. GAPSA President Brittany Edwards has also emphasized the importance of promoting constructive dialogue and mutual understanding during executive meetings and the general assembly. In her opinion, the University of Minnesota would benefit from being more open to discussion, civility, and differences of opinion.

One way in which we have tried to bring about positive change is through applying methods promoted by CIL to constructively discuss complicated topics. For example, "World Café" methodology encourages constructive discussions that facilitate mutual understanding, and aid the formulation of productive and actionable solutions.

In the hour leading up to President Kaler's town hall meeting on Wed. Nov. 28, 2012, GAPSA will facilitate "World Café," so that we can collaboratively source and frame questions that are of concern to many graduate and professional students. The idea is to synthesize main ideas and thoughts from across the group, actively incorporating people who may be more introverted or process ideas gradually. Instead of focusing on non-actionable statements, this format will allow for formulation of key questions to be addressed during the Listening Session with the President and other administrators of the University. It will allow most of the room to be heard within the confines of the President's time.

As with the nation, the challenges faced by higher education are extensive. Solving these challenges requires transformational leadership attitudes not only from elected or positional leaders, but from all of us. CIL emphasizes how different sectors and individuals are part of a system, and how all of us should take ownership in solving common problems.

Following Nov 6th, we should once again focus on the "big picture" and do what we can to move the University of Minnesota and the country forward. GAPSA invites you to join both the Advocacy Workshop that will take place Nov 9th and to join us for the World Cafe event on Nov 28th during President's Kaler visit to the General Assembly. We also welcome graduate and professional students to contribute their time and ideas to GAPSA as we work to improve conditions for all students and the quality of the University.

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