As with any election, this year’s brought out the claws and sharp teeth of politicians and threw respect out the window. In fact, many wounds may still be open and smarting.
Even putting the election aside, we live in an age where the Internet has made it easy and frightfully common to attack someone on the other side of a computer. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, etc. have all become forums for bullying that is then broadcast for the world to see. It comes from all sides and from all views and it is quickly spiraling out of control.
It is an unfortunate reminder that although America may have come far in terms of equality, we are nowhere near a perfectly civil environment. In an article by the Associated Press, college campuses are examined as the ground zeroes for a new surge of efforts to foster diversity and respectful discourse.
“From the University of Missouri to Penn State and Vanderbilt, colleges across the country are treating the erosion of common decency as a public health epidemic on par with measles outbreaks and sexually transmitted diseases,” states the article.
Universities often end up as battlegrounds for liberal movements and civil rights; it is therefore unsurprising that they would be leading the charge in this case.
“We want to be a campus that’s welcoming to all, and hostile to none,” said University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek in the article on the reason for implementing such policies.
Yet some view these policies as a breach on the First Amendment and a “muzzle” on unpopular speech—which, for the most part, is still protected. Many of those against such policies, however, agree that civility is an issue, but that it should be “promoted, not believed in.”
In the current climate, however, it may be necessary to have these kinds of policies in place, as it has come to the point where people have shown that they cannot act politely toward one another even in the professional or academic forum. Where discourse and discussion should come first, these have now taken a backseat to hurtful words and actions.
The fact that many college campuses have adopted them shows that it has come to be a necessity.
In America, we may reach a certain point where these policies are no longer needed and civility can simply be “promoted, not believed in.” However, we are not there at this point in time and we may not reach it without some sort of push.
In 2006, Cal State Fullerton adopted its own “Commitment to Civility,” which states that CSUF views freedom of speech and expression “as an essential characteristic of a community of scholars.”
It also states that learning and academic growth are important values to be reached at CSUF, where “learning is pre-eminent.” To that end, “it is imperative that we foster a climate where civility is valued, appreciated, and expected and where all members of the community are treated with dignity, respect, and care,” according to the policy.
Universities want to foster growth and knowledge, but without civility in mind it becomes much more difficult to do so. By asking people to put aside their hostile differences in favor of respectful discussion, colleges are not silencing, but rather trying to encourage more talk. Until such time that this can be done without an implemented push from the colleges, it it a necessary addition to campuses.
These civility policies are not an attack on freedom of speech or expression, they are simply stating that there is a time and place for certain opinions to be shared. The academic setting is not that place.