We have come full circle. People are sick of the incivility and antagonism that has spread throughout campuses nationwide. Students have suffered for it, too. Many universities have realized that, increasingly, they are turning out bratty, foundationless adults, who expect the world to bend to their demands yet refuse to do anything in return and shrink up at the merest perceived offense. As a result, universities have begun to emphasize the importance of civility and etiquette, using student-led discussions, skits, and questionnaires.
The Wall Street Journal examined the growing trend in an article titled "New Topic on Campus: Civil Discourse 101"
We've seen the violent protests at Berkeley and Middlebury, and the fanatical outrage at Evergreen College. We've seen it so often that many of us are numb to it. Thankfully, school officials recognize the danger in this.
With schools criticized either for coddling oversensitive young adults or for allowing extremists to spew hate, universities including Butler, Tufts and Duquesne are working to improve civil discourse. They are starting speaker series and courses and even designing skits on how to respond if a roommate hangs an offensive poster.
Students will reflect on their debate styles and talk through hypotheticals like whether to engage or kick out party guests who say hateful things.
Wake Forest University is even using dinner parties, with about a dozen people, where students practice common etiquette. The college's communications director Brett Eaton said, "The goal is to have participants reveal things about themselves, find connections with others and feel more confident working together."
Tufts University has even devoted a $100,000 grant to examine political polarization on campuses, with attention to how schools handle controversial speakers.
The message is clear: There is hope.
"Azhar Majeed, vice president of policy reform at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit civil liberties group, said it is good to see schools teaching about the principles behind the First Amendment, but too often they create policies that require civility, rather than just encourage it. Clamping down on offensive speech remains a "huge" problem at colleges, he said, and schools can't punish students just for hurting someone's feelings."
The message is clear: There is hope. Just as we'd assumed that there was nothing ahead but more darkness, a ray of sunshine appeared. And the dark clouds are opening. They're opening slowly, but they're opening nonetheless, just enough to keep us going.