MU civility campaign echoes others around the country

Monday, October 1, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:30 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 1, 2012

COLUMBIA — As director of MU Equity for the Chancellor's Diversity Initiative, Noel English has heard of plenty of uncivil acts on campus — sometimes with serious consequences as with sexual harassment and bullying cases.

A number of factors through the years helped inspire English to champion a civility campaign at MU. They included the 2010 suicide of 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, which became a nationally known case of cyberbullying. Another was MU's campus climate survey, which asks students about their experiences on campus.

"I brought it up at the staff meeting," English said of the campaign. Subsequent to the staff meeting English said, "Every single person that I've talked to said, 'That's a great idea.'"

Show Me Respect: Promoting Civility at the University of Missouri officially kicks off at a diversity summit in late October. Such civility campaigns have been happening at college campuses around the country.

"I think people are just getting to the place where they're like, 'You know what, this is not the way the world is supposed to be,'" English said of the trend. 

At the time of Clementi's death, in September 2010, Rutgers had been planning a civility campaign. Shortly after the public suicide, Project Civility at Rutgers was launched and ran for two years, according to the campaign website.

The hope of Project Civility was to reduce bullying in all forms. The website said that since the campaign began, more people on campus have been thinking about their actions.

Clementi's suicide also affected Peter Groenendyk, director for Residence Life and Dining Services at the University of Memphis and co-chairman of the civility campaign there.

The University of Memphis Civility Campaign ran for the 2011-2012 school year. Activities included students signing a large banner of a civility pledge promising integrity, respect and civility. More than 20 programs were sponsored during the year, 23 departments and organizations were involved in the campaign, and 3,000 students participated in some manner. 

"We reached out to every corner of the campus," Groenendyk said. 

"We did a civility campaign for a full year because we wanted to expose our students to civility for a long time," said Colton Cockrum, assistant director of the Helen Hardin Honors Program at the University of Memphis and co-chairman of the civility campaign. 

The plan is to make it an annual event held for one week starting this fall. 

Tulane University also had a civility campaign called the One Wave Campaign, a reference to the sports team's nickname, the Green Wave. 

Ross Bryan, assistant vice president of Housing and Residence Life at Tulane, said this is the second campus he's been on that started a civility campaign — University of Alabama being the other one.

Bryan said the Tulane campaign was well received by the students, faculty and staff. Banners and T-shirts were made for events with the school motto, "Not for one's self, but for one's own," on them.

American University in Washington, D.C., started the "Civitas" campaign after a student affairs staff retreat in 2003. Every year for the retreat, they choose a book to read, and that year they chose "Choosing Civility" by P.M. Forni.

In what was a soft launch of the Show Me Respect campaign, Forni spoke at MU in August. The author and professor at Johns Hopkins University, where he co-founded a civility project in 1997, talked about life as a relational experience.

The Civitas campaign at American started based on an overall observation of the manner that individuals treat one another. 

"The purpose was to promote a civil and responsible campus community," said Bernie Schulz, special assistant to the vice president of campus life at American. 

Schulz worked with various departments and divisions, including student groups, to produce a Civitas week that would include a keynote speaker, banner contest among student organizations and a segment for random acts of kindness.

The nine-year campaign continues with events spread throughout the year instead of a week. 

"I think it was time well spent," Schulz said. "These are the skills in our society that are definitely beneficial." 

At MU, Show Me Respect launches formally at the MizzouDiversity Summit on Oct. 29-30. A schedule and registration for the event can be found on the Mizzou Diversity page.

The summit begins with activities focused on making MU a place where everyone is included. The keynote speaker will be David Livingstone Smith, author of "Less than Human," a book about why humans are capable of committing acts of violence and other hateful actions.

The campaign goal is to create an atmosphere of civility at MU by having consideration for others and treating them with respect, according to the campaign website. It also is an effort to bring civility ideals such as respect, courtesy and acknowledgement of others into the classroom and work environment. 

Incorporating them into different environments will allow people to get more out of their campus experiences, said English, who is one of 19 committee members leading the Show Me Respect campaign.

"I would be happy if we just started having those conversations," English said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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