By Annette Finley-Croswhite and Veleka Gatling

The idea of “civility” is an ancient and essential concept that has evolved over time to emphasize right behavior, politeness, and knowing how to disagree with respect. Nevertheless, in the news today we are more likely to hear about the lack of civility and people behaving badly as opposed to examples of proper conduct. Social commentators and political pundits ponder how a wave of “bad behavior” has engulfed the contemporary world and even become a world crisis.  

To counter the prevalence of incivility, August, has been designated as national Civility Month, and the ODU Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity (OIED) has developed a program to raise awareness about civil behavior.  All month OIED will create opportunities and spaces to become “Aware, Culturally Competent and Engaged (ACE)" and thereby enhance Monarch Citizenship on our campus. To recognize August as Civility Month, the Center for Faculty Development interviewed Dr. Veleka Gatling, AVP for Diversity & Inclusive Excellence.

CFD: What inspired you to take on the Civility Month initiative?

Dr. Gatling: I am always looking for ways for us as a Monarch Community to operationalize our beliefs. Our core values include our commitment to accessibility, collaboration, excellence, inclusion, innovation, and respect. Acknowledging Civility Month seemed to be a great way for many of these values to become operational on our campus.

CFD: How essential do you believe general guidelines for behavior are to healthy workplace culture?

Dr. Gatling: General guidelines are defined as general rules or principles and often have a long history. They provide suggestions on how things should be done. Guidelines give us an expectation of what is acceptable and non-acceptable in the workplace. Guidelines tell us the minimum expectations. They can be the starting point for developing a healthier workplace culture.

CFD: As Monarchs, what should be our #1 goal regarding your opinion of course?

Dr. Gatling: I wish I could just say, BE KIND, and ask that we realize that we are products of our lived and learned experiences. It’s necessary for us to pause and listen, to understand before being understood. In a more scholarly sense, I want to commit to building an inclusive community that encourages empathy, mutual understanding, and the recognition of differences.

CFD: How would you suggest we go about building more understanding about how we as Monarchs can demonstrate civility on campus and in the workplace?

Dr. Gatling: Understand what it means to YOU to commit to building an inclusive community. Understand what is means to others (people you work with and/or encounter daily) to commit to building an inclusive community. We can then build common understanding of what civility means, what it looks like, and what it sounds like on a daily or weekly basis.

CFD: If someone is new to thinking about civility issues, what would you recommend they read or do?

Dr. Gatling: Because I am an auditory learner, I would suggest they listen to this TED Talk by Christine Porath (a management professor at Georgetown University).

Porath has written a book entitled Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for The Workplace which helps the reader understand the importance of civil behaviors as daily practice.

CFD: What would you like to promote about Civility Month at ODU and the initiatives that you and your office have created?

Dr. Gatling: Because we are an institution of higher learning that provides support for strategic partners to address challenges and propose solutions that impact the economy, environment, health, wellness, and social justice, it is our responsibility to provide support and resources related to the technical skills necessary to be professionally successful in those pursuits. Our office believes that understanding what it means to practice civility is a technical skill for success.

CFD: Visit this site for more information about ODU’s Civility Month and the events and activities OIED has planned. 

Please note as well that to reinforce the Civility Month initiative, the Center for Faculty Development will hold a “Salon” on October 31 from 2-3:15PM in which three ODU faculty (Drs. Anil Nair (Management), Carolyn Rutledge (Nursing), and Gary Beck (Communication and Theatre Arts), along with Dr. Judith Taylor-Fishwick, (Director of Professional Development and Assistant Professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School) will address the critical topic: “Civility and Cultural Humility in the Workplace.”  We hope to see you there, (location to be announced in the near future).