In 2016, Anna and I noticed a deepening division in our flagship class participants and decided that the best thing to do was to address it head on. We designed a small group conversation model centered on getting curious with those who see the world through lenses different than our own. In January 2017, we held the first “State of the World” conversation during our Great Falls session.
Class participants leaned in with trepidation at first. We asked them to suspend their own judgement – just for a while – and listen intently to why their classmates were fearful or excited about the state of the world. Throughout the 90 minute conversation, laughter erupted in frequent spurts and the initial reluctance to talk about our differences was replaced with an honest realization that those differences are tiny compared to our similarities.
Enter 2020 and a rapid succession of events that would deeply divide our society even more than it already was. I said to the team “We need to bring State of the World to our alumni” and as quickly as we could revamp this conversation model to suit a virtual experience, we did. So much gratitude goes to Hatton Littman (2017, M 2019) here for spearheading this for our Alumni Committee and to Alumni Director Jen Davis for adding this new program to her growing list of events (have you seen the list below?!).
From June through October, we will have held 15 events with more than 100 alumni have participated in a SOTW conversation in their flagship or masters classes. We again see that same trepidation from the 2017 experience. “Are we really going to dig into issues like the pandemic, racial and social divides, economic challenges, and the election?” You bet we are. Participants report walking away feeling a sense of connection they had missed. Many felt hopeful, less anxious, and better prepared to lead in this strange time.
In October, we will hold six more SOTW conversations which you can see in our event listing below. On October 26 from 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm (register for October), this event will be open to all alumni and we hope you will join us. Then on December 9th from 12:00 – 2:00 pm (register for December), we are doing it again.
I know that the last thing many of us want to do before and/or after an election is get in a Zoom with people who disagree with us. Believe me, I know. And…that is exactly what we need to do right now.
Be well, lead well.
Chantel M. Schieffer
President & CEO
Class of 2010, Masters 2019