Vice President's Grant for Diversity and Community Initiatives | Adult Learning and Leadership | Organization and Leadership

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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Adult Learning and Leadership

Department of Organization & Leadership

Vice President's Grant for Diversity and Community Initiatives

Lyle Yorks and Mariana Vergara

Project Abstract

The rationale of this initiative starts from the insight that many personal and societal issues occur due to people being unaware of their taken-for-granted assumptions at a subconscious level. Operating on a reactive state has various drawbacks.  In this state, decisions made are less effective because they do not address the root cause of the problem. By using Collaborative Inquiry through various cycles of reflection, this initiative will help participants to become more present when having discussions about diversity.  It will take them through a process of growing self-awareness and inner transformation. As a result, our goal is that people will be able to tap into various faculties of their conscious mind that are normally inaccessible when a person is in a purely reactive state.  The objective is that with greater clarity, people can make better decisions for themselves, their families, and society at large.  We need to work together in looking at the process through which participants construct and take the initial steps toward an actionable strategy to address the diversity issue at Teachers College.

Statement of Need

Based on data from interviews and focus groups from the "Experiencing Diversity Study at TC"; our proposal is addressing assumptions about diversity through Collaborative Inquiry. At the TC study, the authors describe; a) the "lack of space" to discuss diversity that they found while doing their study (p. 5, Integrated Report 2013); and b) assumptions regarding diversity (p. 6, Integrated Report 2013).

This is a first time initiative that a) addresses with participants their "taken for granted assumptions" around the definition of "diversity" and what it means to each of the individuals and group as a whole; and b) the intention of this initiative is to provide the space to take participants on a journey within to transform underlying assumptions to be able to transform individually in order to work collectively.

Program Description

Collaborative Inquiry aims to foster transformative learning by facilitating students to go through cycles of reflection that challenge their assumptions. Collaborative Inquiry will create the space and will facilitate awareness of their taken-for-granted assumptions regarding diversity issues.

Crossing Community Boundaries:

By providing an open group and safe space to the TC & greater Columbia University community, which includes students, faculty, alumni, community members and university affiliates as well as local neighborhoods; this initiative welcomes a diverse group membership and sets the stage for greater inclusion on the surface level.

Intergroup Communication:

By meeting weekly and sharing reflections, emotions, behaviors and observations, the group grows together organically in a judgment-free space.  The group builds an authentic culture that is safe and welcoming to current and new members.  Each member begins transforming within and through this inner work collective collaboration begins.


The group builds an authentic culture that is safe and welcoming to current and new members.  Each member begins transforming within and through ones' inner work collective collaboration with each other builds in the form of group and peer support, learning community and co-creating community project initiatives with a special emphasis on leveraging diversity. We have established relationships with the Coalition of Latino Scholars, African American Working Group, and TEDx group. We continue building more collaboration with other groups.  Also, we are collaborating with IUME and the CEJJES Institute.


Regarding, our taken-for-granted assumptions, or our mental models; Peter Senge (1990) questions if we are prisoners of the system or prisoners of our own thinking.  In his book "The Fifth Discipline" he describes mental models as deeply engrained assumptions, generalizations or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.  This information can help in appreciating the forces that are shaping reality and how we are part of those forces and therefore, can affect them.  In this way, participants can make that connection in order to change their paradigm through identifying their mental models. Through this initiative, our taken-for-granted assumptions will be addressed by organizational learning techniques emphasizing the reflective learning process, such as, collaborative inquiry, action inquiry with single-loop, double-loop and triple-loop learning.  Bray, Lee, Smith & Yorks (2000) define collaborative inquiry as a process consisting of repeated episodes of reflection and action through which a group of peers arrives to answer a question of importance to them. Through single-loop learning, double-loop learning (Argyris & Schon, 1996) and the triple-loop learning (Torbert, 1991, 2004), action inquiry facilitates a different focus on behavioral and cognitive change at the individual level, an interpretation of the environment that leads to the revision of individual knowledge structures (Walsh, 1995).  As we reflect, we better understand our "agentic" behavior (self-organizing, proactive, self-reflecting and self-regulating). Bandura (1986) describes "agentic" behavior in his social cognition theory perspective that views people as self-organizing, proactive, self-reflecting and self-regulating, not just as reactive organisms shaped by environmental forces or driven by inner impulses, which is in opposition to the conception of humans as governed by external forces.

Interactive Components:

The group meets weekly for 2 hours live and/or via Video Conference.  In addition, a blog, website and Facebook group have been set up for global communication, interaction and multimedia sharing.

Evaluation of this Initiative 

Full Evaluation PDF

Mindfulness into Action—Report for May 29, 2014 

Mindfulness into Action PDF


  1. Argyris, C. & Schon, D. (1996). Organizational Learning II: Theory, method, and practice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  2. Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. London: Sage Publications.
  3. Bray, J. N., Lee J., Smith, L. & Yorks, L. (2000). Collaborative Inquiry in Practice: Action, reflection, and making meaning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  4. Carter, R. T., Oyler, C. & Gouling, C. (2013). Experiencing diversity, integrated report: The research team’s final observations and conclusions. Retrieved 13 October, 2013 from
  5. Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Doubleday Publications.
  6. Torbert, B, Associates (2004). Action inquiry: The power of transformative leadership. San Francisco, CA: Berret-Koehler.
  7. Torbert, W. (1991). The power of balance: Transforming self, society and scientific inquiry. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
  8. Walsh, J. P. (1995). Managerial and organizational cognition: Notes from a trip down memory lane.Organization Science, 6:280-321.
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