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Uncivil rhetoric may be curbed but what will be done about uncivil behavior?

LatinaLista — While it’s been heartening and encouraging to hear our political leaders pledge to start speaking with more “thoughtful consideration,” it’s been as equally disheartening to still hear and read of examples where incivility among people is masked by either denial or called progress.


For example, a graduate student at Oklahoma State University wrote an open letter to his university after completing an assignment where he had to observe people of different cultures interacting. He chose to station himself in the dining hall.

What he observed so appalled him that he didn’t just write up his assignment but wrote a column for the university paper describing what he witnessed. In part, he wrote:

As it turned out, this class assignment became the hardest thing I have had to grapple with in quite some time. What I saw was unashamed racism, mistreatment due to ethnicity and discriminating language used against others who were “different.”

I cannot put in words the feelings and emotions that ran through me as I continued to see and hear things — terrible things. It was a personal struggle to get through the writing that accompanied my assignment for the class. I honestly thought, of all places, Oklahoma State University was not a place where such blatant mistreatment of others would take place.

As soon as the column was published, the vice president of student affairs responded by saying he and his staff aggressively investigated the observations the student had written about. He and his staff went to the dining hall and questioned the workers, who are mostly international students, and whom the student said were victims of racial slurs and insults.

The VP said that when he talked to the workers they denied anything had happened. To his credit, he didn’t leave it at that but further wrote:

Our international students are not only incredibly bright, they are resilient, persistent and engaging. They deserve our respect. I am reminded of the ABC program,”What Would You Do?”‘ that each week provides moral and ethical scenarios involving actors creating similar scenarios that were described in the op-ed. The show is (thankfully) critical of people who choose not to report, help, protect, or engage others when they see deplorable behavior in their midst. Sometimes gender, dress and ethnicity are factors in whether people engage or not. Regardless of where we were born or raised, at OSU we are all Cowboys. We do the right thing whether someone is watching or not and we chose to help one another, especially when someone needs our help.

Though the VP did speak out against discriminatory and rude behavior towards the international students, he left the assumption that the grad student who wrote the piece may not have been totally honest in his description of events. That left the door wide open to commenters who tore the writer apart with each saying they had never witnessed anything remotely like that happening on their campus.

And of course, it’s a well-known fact that if a person doesn’t see something, it just doesn’t happen, right?

The second disheartening example that shows just how ingrained incivility is in the culture is the recent decision by the school board of the Wake County School District in North Carolina.

The majority Republican school board, some of whose members were Tea Party-backed candidates, want to do away with integrating students. Instead of allowing poor students to attend schools outside their neighborhoods, they want to pass a policy that students attend neighborhood schools, knowing that poor students of color will be confined to just a few schools that are customarily poorly equipped, lack highly qualified teachers and receive the short end of any district funding.

…Things have not gone smoothly as the new school board has attempted to define its vision for raising student achievement. A preliminary map of new school assignments did not please some of the new majority’s own constituents. And critics expressed alarm that the plan would create a handful of high-poverty, racially isolated schools, a scenario that the new majority has begun embracing.

Pope, who is a former state legislator, said he would back extra funding for such schools.

“If we end up with a concentration of students underperforming academically, it may be easier to reach out to them,” he said. “Hypothetically, we should consider that as well.”

This is progress? It’s an alternative interpretation of incivility.

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