Monday, March 28, 2011

Civility Revisited

Civility is an issue on campuses across the country. I’ve attended meetings in the past few weeks that have helped put the ongoing dialogue regarding civility at MVCC in context for me.

Campus-based incivility in America is taking many forms, including subtle disrespect; overt bullying; intimidation; and even instances of outright campus violence– each one having its own unique twist of breathtaking tragedy. While no college can ever fully guarantee the prevention of such events, we can do much more to foster an environment of civility.

I often come back to John Zogby’s book, The Way We’ll Be, when thinking about the notion of respecting others. He writes about trends he’s witnessed through the last twenty-five years of polling data, which indicate we Americans are shifting our thinking about what matters most to us. Where twenty years ago polls showed that Americans were still chasing material dreams under the mantra “whoever dies with the most toys wins,” recent polls across all age groups show Americans valuing material things less and less, while increasingly identifying “being respected for who I am as a person” as the driving force in their lives.

As a college, with learning and personal growth as our primary purpose, the ability to share and consider the ideas of others is paramount. In order to fulfill our vision of providing an innovative learning environment, each member of the MVCC family (student, faculty,and staff) and every visitor must first feel safe and respected. Discussions related to civility on campus range from meeting the basic standard of mutual respect between faculty, staff, and students, to improving the levels of courtesy, respect and professional interaction among offices, units, and Centers.

Today’s discussions of civility go beyond the notion of “these kids today” that surfaces with every generation of young adults. Demonstrations of incivility, on campus, are not confined to one particular group. I think civility issues are on the rise in the society, as a whole, and are certainly more than strictly a college campus issue. We are increasingly seeing the stressors and challenges of everyday life find their way to our campuses. As a result issues of increasing incivility are, unfortunately, a sign of our times.

In response to a previous post on civility, one of our many talented adjunct faculty members responded with the following insight (I’m paraphrasing) – Not to excuse behavior, but when one considers the number of mass media messages that talk about the current generation as the first to be worse off than their parents; the pervasiveness of reinforcing messages on individual shortcomings versus personal strengths; limited options and mobility due to the economy; a dearth of employment opportunities; and complex family situations with associated responsibilities, we’re all carrying a lot of “stuff” around with us every day. It doesn’t take much to set some people off and prompt others to make unkind comments or take actions without thinking.

I see much truth there and believe we must draw upon the strength of our institutional purpose to come together to reinforce what makes any college – and MVCC in particular – unique. In order to maintain ourselves as a community of learners committed to personal growth and improvement, we must amplify the importance of civility as a pre-requisite for membership! We must rededicate ourselves to growing and modeling a culture in which values of respect, tolerance, and kindness permeate the very core of all of our interactions with each other. If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.