Civil Society Starts Here

Diversity, inclusion and civility

In her blog, Jo Ellen Parker, president of Sweet Briar College,  quoted Spelman College president, Beverly Daniel Tatum. Tatum wrote that “In the context of rising social anxiety about the perceived decline in economic opportunity, the changing place of the United States in the global economy, and even the paradigm-shifting election of a black president, we see a corresponding rise in incivility and more frequent public expressions of hostility toward the ‘other’ – whether that is defined by race, religion, ethnicity, or immigrant status.”

As Parker pointed out, “College campuses across the nation experience occasional episodes of intolerant, offensive, or discriminatory speech or conduct. Of course they do.”

Universities are part of the larger social fabric and context. As such, they reflect behavior that we see elsewhere in society. Incivility is everywhere, and the topic comes up a lot when people talk about Washington.

Today, there seems to be a level of incivility in Washington that precludes compromise. We have to compromise everywhere else so why not Congress!  Other parts of society, including universities, can model how we should treat one another.  It’s critical that we model civility if we are to educate for a civil society as well as inculcate skills and competencies required for public health training.  I write today to advocate for diversity, inclusion and civility in all we do here.

For over a year, our Diversity and Inclusion Task Force (DITF) has been developing a plan and recommendations to map how we can become more diverse and inclusive. Several weeks ago, the task force posted their draft plan on the website and requested feedback. If we implement many of the recommendations, we are likely to become even more diverse and inclusive. Civility should be linked with diversity and inclusion.  None of us will achieve our full potential if the School isn’t a diverse institution, with an inclusive climate, one in which civility is practiced toward all. I mean the definition of civility as the act of showing regard for others.

Many people, each with their individual differences, come together in our  public health school tent, just like in Congress, corporations and communities. In an inclusive environment, we respect and value those differences. Because people’s past experiences often aren’t known to colleagues, we should be guided by thoughtfulness and restraint when it comes to personal criticism in class and elsewhere, certain kinds of humor and even the way celebrations are carried out (for example, use of alcohol). One person’s joke may be another’s pain, especially when related to body size, culture, family situations and other personal experiences. Some topics are so inherently painful that no joke about the topic can be funny, e.g. rape.

Societies have been concerned about how to instill civility for centuries.  “Civility costs nothing and buys everything.” (Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1689– 1766, from Wikipedia)  Civility is never out of fashion. Today, perhaps, it too often is out of favor.

Our School must be a diverse place where everyone feels valued, included, welcomed and treated with civility!

Happy Monday, Barbara

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