32 | COMMUNITY COLLEGE JOURNAL AACC.NCHE.EDU
Having been at AACC and in Washington, D.C., for
a few years now, I am privileged to be able to look
back at what we have accomplished together and
also to look forward as we continue to advance
the work of the nation’s community colleges. In
so many ways, AACC has been afforded amazing
opportunities to represent our community colleges
at the national level. We have had a seat at the table
to discuss key policy initiatives during Democratic
and Republican presidential administrations and
have worked across the aisle to ensure that needs
of community colleges and the students they serve
remain clearly in focus. We participate willingly,
thoughtfully and without regard for political
affiliation because our members deserve the best
representation at the federal level.
Working across the aisle is a term that is often
heard and less often practiced. As a leader, it can
be frustrating to work within an organization that
resembles the oft-chided Washington gridlock.
But, don’t your students deserve the best representation at the local level? We have all heard about
gridlock that happens within organizations. It
may be subtle or overt and it may be the result of
a culture that has flourished for many years prior
to your tenure as president. Regardless, it can be
a challenge. So, how do you reach across the aisle
and find solutions to the challenges that you face?
Something that works for me is to simply
listen. Many times we hear talking, but instead of
focusing on what is being said, we are calculating
our responses and not actually listening. It is helpful to recognize your own bias when listening.
Understanding that bias is an individual frame
of reference based upon our own experiences
can help you to listen to all sides and reflect
honestly. Often differing factions may have more
in common than not. Sometimes just by listening
with intention, you can easily spot commonalities
that may be helpful in bringing people together.
As a leader, you have likely developed and
shared a vision for the college. Using that shared
vision as the basis for communicating commonalities may be a great way to reach across the aisle.
There surely will be touchpoints that your entire
community can agree on, such as student access
and success, mission and values. If you are communicating the big picture effectively, then seeing
the common threads that are in that picture can
help everyone see themselves in the tapestry.
Here in Washington, we listen carefully and
we are not shy about sharing the story of the community college. We develop and share how we can
be a thread in their big picture to help advance
the national agenda around higher education,
workforce development, equity and inclusion,
funding, etc. The community college story is both
universal and personal—just like our colleges. I
can’t tell you enough about the positive impact of
showing someone the big picture regarding our
colleges and watching them discover how they are
connected to a community college in some way.
It’s the same realization that your team may have
when they can see how their thread is woven into
the tapestry of your big picture.
As the leader, your vision and leadership can
help weave those threads together all the way
across the aisle.
Walter G. Bumphus is president and CEO of the American Association of
Reaching across the aisle
By Walter G. Bumphus
“Sometimes just by listening with intention, you can easily spot
commonalities that may be helpful in bringing people together.”