I'm in Illinois this week (June 19-25) working as one of the two Lead Facilitators for the LeaderShape Institute. I have a lull in the schedule and thought I'd use the moment to reflect on my experience over the last week. As a framing perspective - it has been a challenging and incredible week.
This is the third year I've been Lead for the most diverse Institutes LeaderShape has. The American Indian College Fund (through the support of Coca-Cola) has been sending delegations of native students to Illinois for LeaderShape. This year we have almost twenty of our 64 students from tribal colleges. It is a truly amazing experience because there literally is no majority at the Institute. For whatever reason, the tensions over culture are stronger this year and I don't know exactly how this will all turn out. I trust the LeaderShape curriculum enough to believe that we will go where we need to go, but it's not easy.
One of the primary issues is the tension over cultural expectations. The native participants believe that some of the white students don't really get the point of what it means to be open to the culture of someone else. Specifically, the communication patterns among native students is more reserved and respectful. When in discussions, the native students are taught to speak only when they have listened carefully to others and when they have discerned something worth sharing with the rest of the group. The white students are more assertive - talking on top of each other, breaking in, and competing for group visibility. The difference in the cultures inevitably results in the native participants being locked out of communication. Some white students are more sensitive but others are very intolerant about the quiet nature of native participants. Their belief is that, if they have something to say, they should fight for the chance. As you might expect, these dynamics are not easy to handle.
Another cultural difference is between the Greek and native participants. The Greek organization members like to bring the topic of discussion to their own issues and they don't really try to connect to the points of other groups. The amazing thing about this is that the challenges of native peoples in their tribes and communities are actually quite similiar to the tribes or clans of fraternities. In fact, one of the greatest tensions in tribal groups is between "gaming" and "non-gaming" tribes, meaning the difference between those with and without casinos. While casinos raise the standard of living and visibility of tribal groups, they tend to draw natives away from the core culture of their people. In fraternities, the shift to larger memberships, centered around social conduct, separates the "social" from the "non-social" fraternities. While the social groups tend to be more visible, popular, and have larger memberships, they also are the groups that lose their core values and purposes, and therefore, contribute to the disintegration of the historic culture of Greek organizations. This link is fascinating to me but remains primarily unrecognized and unappreciated by Greek student participants. The native participants totally understand (probably the result of age and maturity).
Note to self - take back the idea of the similarity between native and fraternal groups and try to understand the dynamics with which both struggle. Perhaps they share a common strategy or solution to their struggles.