Civility initiative aims to improve campus organization relationships

Mike Paestella, assistant director for Student Organization Services, has seen the absence of civility as a growing problem amongst student organizations on the Oswego State campus in recent years. Paestella has been disappointed with the way some students in campus organizations have handled their professional relationships with each other. This inspired him to create the Organizational Commitment to Civility form. The voluntary document contains seven points that he hopes will urge students to consider their actions when working in their organization.

The document touches on the topics of civility, respect for diversity, individuality and the opinions of others.

Paestella defines civility as the way students carry themselves – being polite to others, and thinking about the impact of the words students choose. Civility is also acknowledging the fact that everyone will not agree on a topic, but that students should agree to disagree and respect their differences.

Melissa Torella, a freshman marketing major and member of Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) said everyone should respect individuality because ideas are best when combined with others’ ideas.

Paestella compared the civility commitment to the recent State of the Union. President Barack Obama and Congressman Paul Ryan from Wisconsin had conflicting views, but expressed their opinions in a respectful manner without taking any cheap shots at each other.

"This could be a model for a hopeful future: civil disagreeance," Paestella said.

"Different groups make the campus more diverse," Frank Risole, a junior wellness management major said.

When students are in organizations, many of them have a hard time distinguishing the difference between a business relationship and a personal relationship, Paestella said. If two students disagree on a topic in a board meeting, often times, that problem crosses over into their personal lives.

Paestella said he sees this problem as not only an issue at Oswego State, but a societal problem. With growing technologies, students are prone to let out their frustration on social networking websites, including Facebook and Twitter. When students mention problems about a club or organization, the problem often multiplies when seen by others. Problems like this often occur around election time for each organization.

"Civility can also mean lending a helping hand to fellow club members when in need," Paestella said. For example, if a new member makes a mistake, returning members should help them adjust, instead of judging them for their mistakes.

Paestella expects Greek organizations to embrace the commitment to civility. Greek organizations already work together in projects such as, risk management, anti-hazing training, and Greek Council.

Courtney McBride, a junior business administration major and a sister of the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority said commitment is important and says a lot about the community.

Organizations should try and benefit the community, McBride said.

"The values here are great and useful for students," Adam Hope, residence hall director of Riggs Hall said. "I wish they had something like this when I was in undergraduate school; it would have solved a lot of problems."

Paestella hopes that the commitment to civility will also bring cultural and religious organization together.

"Maybe have a Christian student go to a Secular Student Alliance meeting, or a European student go to a Latino Student Union meeting," Paestella said.

Paestella wants the commitment to civility to be thoroughly read and considered, rather than being passively signed.

"I would rather 25 organizations meaningfully sign it than all 160 organizations sign it just because they feel that have to," Paestella said. "This form is different than, for example, the hazing form that Greeks have to sign. They don’t have to sign the commitment to civility in order to operate as an organization."

Moreover, Paestella would like this form to be seen as something separate from the normal paperwork every club and organization has to fill out in the beginning of the academic year. He would like the civility commitment to be seen as something unique. Paestella said it could possibly be re-issued every spring semester.

Paestella hopes organizations will first reflect on the commitment, then it will hopefully have a ripple effect. Paestella has only showed the commitment to the Student Association but plans on advertising it to all clubs and organizations in the near future.