A Plea for Civility

September 23, 2015

During the past few days, Dean White sent out an elegant statement to support inclusiveness and a welcoming environment.  The Diversity, Equity, and Community Committee echoes those statements and asks that we in the Human Sciences College make strong efforts to support freedom of speech and diversity on campus.  If you have comments about this email, please contact Mary Lynn Damhorst, who is chair of the committee.

A Plea for Civility, Support of Civil Liberties, and Safety on Campus

The College of Human Sciences Diversity, Equity, and Community Committee asks for students, faculty, and staff to think carefully about freedom of speech and civility toward others with differing opinions.   We seem to live in a time when there is increasing expression of intolerance of differences, but do remember that just as rallying in support of political candidates and ideas in public areas on campus is a right and privilege, it is just as much a right for people to express disagreement with ideas on campus too. 

Iowa State University promotes the free and active exchange of ideas.  This dedication to freedom of expression inevitably causes difficulties.  We may at times hear or see attitudes and opinions expressed with which we as individuals do not agree or that make us feel uncomfortable.  This discomfort does not ever make acts of aggression toward people we don’t agree with appropriate or righteous.  Throwing things at people you dislike, screaming in their faces, or grabbing anyone or their possessions are acts of physical aggression that are not appropriate and are illegal.  This type of behavior degrades the sense of a safe and secure environment that is greatly valued at Iowa State University.

Equally intolerable are verbal assaults upon the individuals and groups with which you disagree.  Racial epithets, profanity, insults about morality, and claims that individuals should go back to where they came from are demeaning and hostile.  These types of communications are hate speech, indicating that because of characteristics of individuals they are less worthy of respect, less worthy of political expression, less worthy of safety, and less worthy of living within this country.  Hate speech and incivility toward others are not acceptable at Iowa State University.

We ask that all students, faculty, and staff in the college commit themselves to eliminating incivility and promoting freedom of expression and the right to be different.  One first step is to recognize when we use stereotypes to assume things about people based on their skin color, what they wear, and other aspects of appearance.  We need to respect that other people will have different values and beliefs for many reasons, often stemming from their religious, ethnic, cultural, political, economic, gender identity, and family backgrounds.  Just because those differences are present does not mean you must adopt those differences yourself, and you in turn cannot demand that everyone be just like you either.  Majority in itself never makes something right or best.  This is a university, where openness to differences is an essential part of learning and living.  Think of differences across people as a richness and value of Iowa State University that add to learning and development of all of us as human beings.  Learning to accept diversity as valuable and important is a life skill that will serve all of us well in this increasingly complex and interdependent world.

We all need to work together and stand up to people who feel that bullying and threatening are acceptable behaviors.  If you have friends or acquaintances that make racist statements or jokes that demean groups of people, don’t laugh and encourage them.  If you see or hear threatening speech and other behaviors, speak out against the perpetrators.  Come to the defense of those who are attacked and show them support.  Get help when serious incidents are occurring.  Ask instructors to intervene when you hear inappropriate talk in class.  All of this takes courage, but without courage on the part of all of us, our campus can become an ugly and dangerous place.

Iowa State University is a great institution.  Let’s all work to make ISU the best place for learning and the best place for being, within a safe and secure environment in which differences are accepted and valued.