By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Across the Minnesota State University campus, acts of kindness can be seen in doorways, hallways, behind counters, inside classrooms.
Teachers are smiling. (More than usual?) Cashiers in the Student Union are making eye contact and, in a friendly voice, thanking students and staff for their purchases. (Friendlier than before?)
Folks are holding doors open. Saying excuse me. Even nodding hello.
Granted, this is Minnesota, a state that’s known for its “Nice.” But MSU is making an official, concerted effort to be an even more positive place to work and be.
“We want to make sure our employees and our students have a good, healthy, civil work and educational environment at MSU,” said Linda Hanson, director of Affirmative Action and a primary leader in MSU’s recently launched Civility Campaign.
The campaign is encouraging folks on campus to ask themselves a key question: “Who are you?” Reflecting on and making changes to your own behavior can have a ripple effect on the campus atmosphere, Hanson said.
Plans for the campaign began in August 2011 when President Richard Davenport challenged the campus in his convocation speech to develop a plan to eliminate bullying and increase respect across campus.
While many people might associate bullying with middle or high schools, the problem is prevalent on college campuses, too, Hanson said.
“There are instances in which, certainly, during my work history, that bullying has been part of the work environment,” Hanson said.
A classic example, Hanson said, is raising your voice to another employee during a disagreement or purposefully trying to intimidate another person during an argument. David Jones, associate vice president for student affairs and enrollment management, cited a more serious and well-known incident of cyber-bulling at Rutgers University, which led to student Tyler Clementi’s suicide.
Heather Biedermann, who works in the library, said she and her colleagues have had numerous discussions about civility since the campaign began. They have a “Thank You” board in their office where employees can post notes about good deeds.
“I think, for things like this campaign to change behavior, everyone has to be on board,” she said. “At least where I work, I think it is helping. There are still lots of ways that we all can improve, but at least I can say we are all working to make campus a little more civil.”
The campaign is using thought-provoking questions written on posters across campus that are designed to inspire people to reflect on their behavior and ways to be more civil. New scenarios will be displayed twice each month on posters, on the web page for the campaign, and on television screens across campus.
The current poster states: “When you want to get a point across ... be calm, clear and coherent. Or raise your voice — makes you sound like The Intimidator. Who are YOU?”
Faculty and staff will be offered training sessions on civility and bullying as well.
The library got a head start on training, Biedermann said. Anna Maravelas, author of “How to Reduce Workplace Conflict and Stress,” came to do a civility workshop for all faculty and staff. Maravelas gave tips on how to reduce conflict.
“We all worked on writing a code of conduct together, and that helps us think of ways to incorporate civility into our day-to-day lives,” Biedermann said. “I think this really helped us all think about how we treat each other and to try to be thoughtful in our interactions with other people.”
Hanson and Jones said students will be involved in the campaign as well. Campaign organizers are working with the Student Association to come up with creative ways to inspire the student body to be civil.
One example, Hanson said, is to have student volunteers wear Civility Campaign T-shirts and stand in doorways to open doors for students coming into buildings.
“That gesture will inspire other people to think about ways they can pay that forward,” Hanson said.
Hanson said a campaign like this doesn’t have an end date, and campaign organizers will continuously need to come up with resources for employees and students.
“It would be great if the need for this ended tomorrow, but realistically that’s probably not going to happen,” she said. “We realize this is a multi-year effort.”
Biedermann hopes the whole campus will get involved.
“A workplace where people get along is a more efficient and happy place to work,” she said. “Ultimately, everyone wins when we are civil to each other.”
For more information or to view posters and civility resources, visit mnsu.edu/civility.