June 18, 2019 | 65° F

Project Civility continues second year on campus

Project Civility has reached the halfway mark of its two-year endeavor in educating University students and faculty on the importance of kindness and good manners toward others.

The initiative was a co-partnership between Senior Dean of Students Mark Schuster and Kathleen Hull, former director of Byrne Seminars.

Hull’s Byrne class, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” used Johns Hopkins University Professor P.M. Forni’s book “Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct” as a textbook for the class. The book served as a model for the project’s mission, Schuster said.

“We originally wanted to have people think more respectfully and act more respectfully,” he said. “We wanted to create a vocabulary and goal around civility and try to get students to reframe the definition, making it fresh to move it forward.”

In the wake of Tyler Clementi’s death last year, the University and Project Civility gained attention from the media and support from the campus community with themes focusing on bullying.

But “Words of Hate: Can They Ever Be Used,” a debate discussing if hateful words used from a disenfranchised group are more civil, jumpstarted this semester’s scheduled events last week at the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus.

“By raising issues of civility in the public forum, Project Civility enables students to reexamine assumptions offered to them by the mainstream media and come together for a more productive discussion,” said Storey Clayton, coach of the Rutgers University Debate Union.

Future events include looking at athletes as a culture in cooperation with Dena Seidel, director of digital storytelling at the Writers House, where videos of athletes that have come out will be shown, Schuster said.

Eric LeGrand, a School of Arts and Sciences senior who suffered a spinal cord injury after a football game against Army last year, will speak at the Busch Campus Center Multipurpose Room Oct. 5 as part of “Civility Abilities I: We Believe in Eric LeGrand,” said Sattik Deb, director of student services for Labor Studies and Employment Relations.

LeGrand will address questions on overcoming his disabilities in order to continue his aspirations in sports broadcasting and contributing to the community, Schuster said.

“Civility Abilities II: Dr. Jennifer Matos and Panelists” will discuss the intersections of culture, race, gender, sexuality and class on Oct. 27 at 8 p.m. at the Cook Campus Center Multipurpose Room, he said.

“Do you Speak Caucasian?” on Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. at Brower Commons on College Avenue campus will discuss surveys from culture groups on campus, Schuster said.

A former NCAA football-captain-turned-lawyer, Brian Sims, advocating for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community will also be present, he said.

At this event, Schuster said athletic directors from the University, Princeton University and Columbia University will sign pledge to continue or become allies to LGBT athletes.

The spring semester will focus on the environment and community service on global citizenship where Schuster said he received interest from students to having an all-day conference in March.

Schuster spoke at a student affairs conference over the summer on civility at the University of Memphis where they have committed and supported addressing civility for a year, modeling their own program on Project Civility.

A series of fireside chats, debates and panel discussions followed Johns Hopkins University Professor P.M. Forni’s kick-off presentation last year, including a collaboration with The New York Times on “What Does Civility Mean to Us?,” he said.

By the end of the last year, Project Civility became too comprehensive in its logistics, Schuster said.

“We are continuing Project Civility this year,” he said. “But we are scaling the breadth of it because undergraduate education is giving little money and the Student Affairs office is supporting it.”

Deb said he believed the initiative was successful from the beginning because it appealed to people across the spectrum by including a wide array of guest speeches and events.

Although the initiative has reached its halfway mark, he hopes its ambitions and concepts will not be forgotten but transitioned and sustained by students.

“I don’t think it is Project Civility’s final year,” Deb said. “I think it will just take a new form.”

Some students, like Katelyn Hunt, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, have supported the continuing efforts of instilling civility on campus as something needed.

“I think Project Civility is a really innovative thing because it brings to the table a platform for students to talk about things that need to be talked about,” she said.

By Sarah Introna

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