The conclusion of a first-ever University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and UW System conference six months ago was only the beginning of the conversation about civility on campus and in the greater Oshkosh community.
As winter thawed into spring, partners from UW Oshkosh, the Oshkosh Northwestern, the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation and several other community organizations continued the examination of what it means to be civil and how, collaboratively, they could change an icy, angry tone that was permeating media, state and local politics and everyday, interpersonal communication.
The “Oshkosh Civility Project” took the baton handed off by February’s “Civility in Everyday Life Conference.” The community initiative’s website, www.oshkoshcivilityproject.org, now boasts a list of more than 250 university, local government, business, school, faith-community and nonprofit leaders and citizens who have taken the civility pledge. Plans are in place to reach out to larger groups in the fall, and programming will continue into the next year.
The project is committing individuals and organizations to stronger listening and inclusion practices and to spreading an embrace of the movement’s other fundamental values of empathy and respect.
“The business community knows that Oshkosh is a strong, proud community. We also know that we can build upon our warmth and friendliness,” said Walter Scott, an Oshkosh resident and business owner whose interest in community civility initiatives in Duluth, Minn., and Truckee, Calif., helped plant the Oshkosh Civility Project seeds late last year and into in the 2011 winter.
“Everyone knows that the pursuit of civility is a continuous effort,” Scott said. “We are all finding new ways each day to learn from our experience. The civility project is really helping to organize and unify our efforts.”
At UW Oshkosh, too, the concentration on civility continues six months after the February Civility conference’s end.
A team of faculty, staff and community consultants are developing a second workshop that, through administrators and department heads here, will begin to rededicate faculty and staff to the values of civility and academic freedom exercised responsibly on campus and in the classroom.
The workshop will further examine where the two values intersect and how they interconnect with UW System guidelines for political activity, an important policy defining faculty, staff and student rights and boundaries regarding campaigning and election-related events on campus. By the end of the fall, planners aim to have reached every one of the institution’s 1,700 employees with the important, empowering information.
In February, UW System faculty and staff heard from a variety of national, leading minds on the topic of civility, from P.M. Forni, an award-winning professor and author at Johns Hopkins University and co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, to Kathleen Hull, director of the Byrne First-Year Seminars and co-founder of Project Civility at Rutgers—New Brunswick.
Other speakers included Robbie Routenberg, the manager of the Program on Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan and Libby Roderick who has facilitated the University of Alaska Anchorage’s “Start Talking: A Handbook for Engaging Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education, born out of the Ford Foundation’s “Difficult Dialogues” initiative.
The successful workshop was noted in an April USA Today story and briefly profiled the spring 2011 edition of Public Purpose, the Magazine of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
While the February events’ focus was on fostering civil dialogue and action on campuses and in classrooms, it nevertheless gave lift to the Oshkosh Civility Project. Forni also spoke to a large gathering of civic and business leaders at a community breakfast on Feb. 24.
Tom Grogan, who has helped facilitate and plan the Oshkosh Civility Project for the past year through work with UW Oshkosh’s Office of the Chancellor, said presentations to service clubs and other community-based organizations are leading to many new people wanting to sign up, learn more and help advance the initiative.
“Just about everyone knows how open, warm and friendly Oshkosh is, and through the Civility Project we are exploring ways to strengthen this broadly-held positive attribute,” Grogan said. “There is strong representation from the University community in our efforts, but we are really reaching out to broad cross-sections of the community.”