Seeking Accord: SLU Community Reflects on Cooperative Leadership During 'Occupy SLU'

08/23/2017

In a recently published collection from Jesuit Higher Education, SLU faculty, staff and students delved into the challenges and lessons about leadership and conflict that the campus community has worked through in the wake of the Clock Tower Accords.

The collection, edited by Bonnie Wilson, Ph.D., of the John Cook School of Business, and Gregory Beabout, Ph.D., Department of Philosophy, includes three scholarly articles, three reflections and one perspective essay. Wilson and Beabout’s interviews with student leaders, SLU administrators and other key stakeholders involved in the accords also appears as part of the Global Jesuit Case Series. The series examines how business and leadership programs incorporate Ignatian values into their curricula and pedagogy.

Wilson and Beabout were drawn to the project, they said, because the stories of Occupy SLU and of those leaders who emerged during the 2014 event were compelling. The story also allowed the researchers to bring a wide range of voices – student, faculty and staff – from multiple parts of the University into the conversation.

“It’s so rich and involves so many facets,” Wilson explained. “As so many historical events are – [it’s] interdisciplinary.”

“There is a richness to this case,” Beabout said. “Different disciplines bring different resources to considering the case. Leadership is itself interdisciplinary.”

A common thread that emerged as the collection came together, they said, was that as the events of ‘Occupy SLU’ unfolded, leaders ranging from student activists to faculty to administrators emerged. Key questions that emerged from the events leading up the Clock Tower Accords also made the case study unique, Wilson and Beabout said.

“But in this case,” Wilson said, “or this story, or this narrative […] the question it presents is ‘What kind of person do I want to be?’ For SLU, it presents the question, ‘What kind of institution are we? Or just who are we, who are we as an institution? What do our values as an institution tell us we should be?’”

Those leaders, they said, focused on cooperating with one another to respectfully find a resolution to the immediate situation and to plot a path forward for SLU to reflect and further address the underlying issues at the heart of the protest. The commitment of leaders acting from a variety of positions, Wilson and Beabout explained, stands in contrast to leadership scenarios that are more adversarial.

“The heart of the notion of ‘accord’ is ‘how do we find the heart together?’” Beabout said. “It’s a movement, from conflict to accord. It’s a movement from a leadership style of ‘I have a conflict’ to one of leadership by accord. Cooperation takes a lot of hard work.”

The collection took shape throughout the fall of 2016, following a presentation Beabout and Wilson gave at a meeting of Colleagues in Jesuit Business Education that previous summer.

Wilson presented this month at the Center for Jesuit Education’s 2017 Justice Conference, “Through the Eye of the Needle: Commitment to Justice in Jesuit Higher Education,” which was held at Seattle University. SLU sent a delegation of 14 faculty and staff members to the conference.

The heart of the notion of ‘accord’ is ‘how do we find the heart together?’ It’s a movement, from conflict to accord. It’s a movement from a leadership style of ‘I have a conflict’ to one of leadership by accord. Cooperation takes a lot of hard work.” 

Gregory Beabout, Ph.D.

In approaching the research involved in the collection, Beabout and Wilson said they took the advice from colleagues including Stefan Bradley, Ph.D., and Jonathan Smith, Ph.D.,  who were involved in the 'Occupy' events to keep the voices of participants in the 2014 events at the forefront. To do so, they approached a wide range of potential authors and interviewed activists including SLU students Jonathan Pulphous and Alisha Sonnier.

“The challenge for us when we talked to people was to listen to people and to adjust when we might need to rethink things,” Wilson said.

Writing in his piece, “The Letter and Spirit of the Clock Tower Accords,” SLU President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., wrote that the two days of discussion leading to the accords reminded the University community that “[t]he advancement of diversity and inclusion at SLU – and our actions to address each item in the Accords – is not the sole responsibility of one person, one school, or one division. It takes all of us to change an institution, which like our society was built upon a system of inequality.”

“What we must remember,” Pestello wrote to end his piece, “and share with others is that passion behind the occupation and the intention of the Clock Tower Accords attempted to bring into focus the necessity to systematically change how our students from marginalized groups experience a SLU education. When we tell prospective students that anyone can ‘Be a Billiken,’ we must mean it. I believe we do.”

Norman White, Ph.D., associate professor of criminology and criminal justice, wrote about the discussion process that took place during the campus occupation for the collection. He noted that “[i]t felt refreshing to actually have the conversations about the conditions in the community that I had been working in for a number of years; to talk about the need for the campus to take a moral stand against the inequality that resided at our doors.” The process of making the goals of the accords a reality, White notes in his article, are still in process.

At its core, Beabout and Wilson said, is the hope that the lessons learned during the Occupy SLU experience continue to generate thinking on leadership, conflict and Ignatian values, at SLU and beyond.

“The activists’ concerns should always be at the center of the story,” Wilson said. “It was their vices that pushed for this to be a teachable moment and that then pushed that into action. The activists showed us Jesuit pedagogy. I hope pieces like this spur the community to start thinking about that. It will be, in some ways, an ongoing process of learning and discovery.”