Ethics & the Common Good Project is deeply committed to cultivating our collective capacity for empathy, connection, collaboration, and action. We call this collective capacity relational leadership. Rather than focusing on building individual leadership skills, our approach is to use storytelling, empathic listening, and embodied practices to build strong bonds, bridge differences, and share leadership as a community. These relational leadership practices support our work in shifting the culture of Hampshire College away from isolation, competition and judgment, and towards a culture of equity, interdependence, resilience, and abundance.
We began our experiment in relational leadership with the Culture of Radical Engagement Residency. This week-long residency was hosted from February 21-27, 2016 and led by trainers Cedar Landsman (99F) and Lucien Demaris, co-directors of Relational Uprising, as a way to engage our entire campus and explore what relational organizing and shared leadership could look like for our student, staff, faculty, and administrative communities.
The vision for the residency grew out of a training session held by Cedar and Lucien in August 2015. The training was a rich and powerful experience that offered those of us who attended a framework and practice that could help us address the culture of isolation, competition, and judgement that we had experienced on campus and in the wider world. From this, a seed team was born to expand our relational storytelling and resonance skills and to design the residency as a vehicle for sharing this knowledge with others on campus.
The residency week kicked off with an introduction to the Culture of Radical Engagement framework, which draws on social capital research, social neuroscience, radical relational theory, community organizing, and somatic education to offer a nuanced approach to issues of identity, intersectionality, and privilege using an embodied, relational practice. The week continued with a series of introductory workshops for students, staff, faculty, and administrators, addressing the questions of “how can we create an inclusive, empathic, interdependent, and relational culture on campus?” and “how can we prepare leaders to confront the complex challenges in our community and our world with humanizing values?” In these workshops, we focused on:
strengthening bonds, developing and maintaining strong interdependent relationships through the cultivation of collective resonance, a transformative experience of group empathy;
building bridges, increasing our collective capacity to radically include diverse perspectives and experiences, manage complexity, and bridge people and communities together in solidarity;
and sharing leadership, modeling collaborative leadership practices that distribute support and responsibility equitably and create greater resilience for our communities.
The residency culminated in a day-long convening for participants to deepen skills and connections built throughout the week.
The residency made space to explore the challenges we face and the support we cultivate around issues of communication, conflict, and difference. It invited us to imagine and practice more generative and equitable ways of relating to ourselves, each other, and our community at Hampshire College. As our relational leadership development evolves, we continue to empower our community members to share, teach, and model with compassion by equipping them with the skills and knowledge to actively engage in building an ethic of solidarity and care.