The Civility Project

Drawing upon our campus’s strengths in research across the disciplines, the Humanities Institute’s Civility Project engages with questions around civility on UC campuses, asking how we might better develop or refine a shared notion of civility, and foster the conditions necessary to nurture it. Co-directed by the Humanities Institute’s Carolyn de la Peña and Jessica Loudermilk, and incorporating research from the social sciences, humanities, and arts, the project comprises three parts, detailed below.

The Limits of Civility website

A history of incivility on UC campuses from the 1960s forward

This web-based project explores a history of incivility on UC campuses in the context of the public university as an environment that is characterized by goals that are often in tension: free expression and the exchange of ideas, and facilitating inclusion and tolerance in an increasingly diverse population. Tracing this tension from the largely campus-based free speech movement in the 1960s to the recent troubling incidents of hate and incivility at several UC campuses, the web history synthesizes journalistic evidence of key events, records of campuses’ official responses to those events, and documentation of the rapidly shifting demographics of the UC system from the 1960s forward that constitute that backdrop against which these events occur.

Through this analysis, we hope to contribute to an understanding of civility on campus that recognizes public universities as uniquely challenging environments in which to maintain a shared notion of civility, and that includes but also moves beyond the management of discourse, the administrative response to uncivil moments, and perhaps even the notion of civility. As we have seen across the UC in recent years, incidents of incivility have great power to arrest our attention and such moments are often well documented. By compiling a history that pays equal attention to the moments that follow—those moments in which the university and the community react—we hope to better assess what is expected from and what is possible for the public university in resolving the tensions made evident in eruptions of incivility on campus. Better understanding this history also allows us to ask whether civility is the appropriate standard to which we might aspire, and to suggest alternative engagements for the future.

Making Sense of (In)Civility

The site also takes a closer look at our own UC Davis community to see how contemporary moments of incivility have impacted the campus. Based on interviews with UC Davis administrators, students, and faculty, this investigation uses tools of sociological analysis to understand how the university’s structures determine what becomes “uncivil” on campus and frame the range of responses that can take place to these incidents. It takes as its starting point the fact that the university’s structures (rules/regulations, administrative staffing) influence what comes to be called “uncivil” behavior, and what is subsequently addressed in a systematic way as part of a campus-wide effort. Questions asked include: at what point does the administration respond to uncivil acts, and what are the limits of possible responses to those acts? How do individuals who work within the university define a successful outcome when addressing an incident of incivility? What does civility mean to various individuals—is this the word we should be using to identify the conditions of intolerance, and find ways to address it? And, what has the university achieved through recent responses to incidents—and what are the limits of those responses? By shining the light of research onto ourselves here, we hope to provide new insights into what we are doing, and what we still might do to encourage healthy debate and respectful dissent here at home.

Graduate Fellows: Lia Winfield, Josef Nguyen, Julie Setele

Faculty Advisers: Kathy Olmsted, Laura Grindstaff

Graphic Designer: Sarah Marrone

Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Office of the Chancellor, and the UC Davis Humanities Institute

Paper Takes: The Power of Uncivil Words

An exhibition of materials from the Shields Library’s Walter Goldwater Radical Pamphlets collection

Using the leading collection of “extreme” pamphlets in the United States—housed in Shields Special Collections—Paper Takes explores the explanatory power of uncivil words in order to identify and combat their circulation today. It transforms these pamphlets into immersive environments within which we can discern what has motivated intolerant points of view, how these ideas gain credibility, and what tactics draw readers in, and enable further dissemination. Through connections to our 21st century pamphlets (blogs, YouTube videos, Facebook), Paper Takes ultimately asks how better understanding the past can help act upon the traces of these words, and techniques, that remain potent today.

This exhibition was produced in partnership with the Shields Fellowship Program, funded by the Peter J. Shields Library, the Office of Campus Community Relations, and the Department of History. The program funds the Shields Graduate Fellow to work with materials in the extensive holdings of Shields Special Collections. The Fellow conducts a yearlong research project that highlights the richness of our archival resources and provides the campus community with an opportunity to engage with those materials in a meaningful way.

Graduate Fellow: Jessica Mayhew
Faculty Adviser: Kathy Olmsted
Design Team: Tim McNeil, Beth August, Sarah Marrone


Sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor, the UC Davis Humanities Institute, the California Cultures Initiative, the Office of Campus Community Relations, the Peter J. Shields Library, and the Department of History

(Un)Civil (Dis)Obedience

This documentary theatre piece explores the campus community’s emotional responses to the alarming series of uncivil moments and hate-based incidents on the UC Davis campus during the 2009-2010 academic year. Based entirely on transcripts of interviews conducted on campus by a group of student researchers and performers, the piece aims to provide us with a reflection of ourselves as individuals reacting to moments which—at least temporarily—erupt the notion of community by presenting difference as both essential and intolerable. Rather than focusing on the campus community as part of a system or institution, (Un)Civil (Dis)Obedience gives voice to the interior, emotional experience of incivility on campus and insists that we listen to these voices which are rarely part of our official record of the events, but that drive our responses to moments of incivility and in turn, shape our definitions of what civility is and the conditions necessary to achieve it.


Graduate Fellow: Chris McCoy
Faculty Adviser: Peter Lichtenfels

Civility Project Ensemble: Kevin Adamski, Christopher Boyle, Mironda Burch, Brendan Crotty, Marisel Gabourel, Bijan Ghiasi, Ori Gold, Jacklyn Joanino, Erica Kalingking, Anna Kritikos, Shelby Maples, Brenda Marin Rodriguez, Austin Martin, Michelle Rossi, Alexander Scott, Sara Soto, Sam Temming, Johnathan Yu

Sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor, the UC Davis Humanities Institute, and the California Cultures Initiative


Civility Project Directors

Carolyn de la Peña (Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin, American Studies, 2001) directs the UC Davis Humanities Institute and is also a Professor of American Studies and co-editor of the new Boom: A Journal of California, emerging from UC Press in February 2011.  She chairs the system-wide network of Humanities Center Directors for the UC and co-coordinates (with Charlotte Biltekoff) the Multi-Campus Research Initiative (MRPI) “Studies of Food and the Body,” a group of faculty and graduate students across the social sciences and humanities on five UC campuses who, together, explore the intersection of food and human systems and cultures.  She is the author of two books (The Body Electric: How Strange Machines Built The Modern American, 2003 and Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweetener from Saccharin to Splenda, 2010), one co-edited volume (with Siva Vaidahyanathan), Re-Wiring the Nation: The Place of Technology in American Studies (2007) and roughly twenty articles on the history of our relationship to technologies and objects—especially those that enhance physical performance—in the United States.  Carolyn is currently working on a number of projects including articles on the mechanization of tomato harvesting in the 1960s, the rise in popularity of “behavioral vision therapy” for children, the value of engaged scholarship in the humanities, as well as a book-length project on how appetite was manufactured in the twentieth century United States.  She occasionally blogs with other American Studies writers at


Jessica Loudermilk has worked at the Humanities Institute since 2007. She holds a BA and an MA in English literature and is currently a PhD student in Linguistics, with particular interests in sociocultural linguistics, language ideologies, the linguistic individual, critical discourse analysis, and corpus linguistics. At the Humanities Institute, she coordinates the Civility Project, the California Cultures Initiative, the Bilinski Fellowship program, and the Conversations in the Humanities brown bag series, and provides support for various other Institute projects and initiatives.

Civility Project Advisory Board

Sunaina Maira is Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis.  She is the author of Desis in the House: Indian American Youth Culture in New York City and co-editor of Youthscapes: The Popular, the National, the Global and Contours of the Heart: South Asians Map North America, which won the American Book Award in 1997. Her new book, Missing: Youth, Citizenship, and Empire After 9/11 (Duke University Press), is on South Asian Muslim immigrant youth in the U.S. and issues of citizenship and empire after 9/11. Maira was one of the founding organizers of Youth Solidarity Summer, a program for young activists of South Asian descent, and the South Asian Committee on Human Rights (SACH), that focused on post-9/11 civil and immigrant rights issues in the Boston area.  She has also worked with various community and immigrant rights groups in the Bay Area.


Andrés Reséndez is Professor of History at the University of California, Davis. He grew up in Mexico City where he received his B.A. in International Relations at El Colegio de México, and then earned a PhD in History at the University of Chicago. His main research interests revolve around how people construct their ethnic and national identities in North America, and the ways in which these identities intersect with state power, economic change, biology, language, and other phenomena. He is the author of A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca (Basic Books, 2007), and Changing National Identities at the Frontier: Texas and New Mexico, 1800-1850 (Cambridge University Press. 2005).


Mikael Villalobos, M.A. is the Administrator of Diversity Education with the Office of Campus Community Relations in the Offices of the Chancellor and Provost. Prior to joining the Offices of the Chancellor and Provost in 2008, he served as a Regional Outreach Coordinator, Assistant Director and Educational Partnership Manager with the Early Academic Outreach Program, an academic preparation program within the Division of Student Affairs. Mikael has been active in social justice work and diversity education for over ten years.  He is also a senior member of the campus’s Diversity Trainers Institute, a team of UC Davis trainers who develop, teach and facilitate workshops and courses to students, staff and faculty on issues related to social justice and diversity education.  A UC Davis alumnus, Mikael has been with the University for 18 years.  He also has a consulting practice in diversity education.

Michael F. Winter is a Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian at Shields Library, University of California, Davis, where he has worked since 1985. He has also served as a Lecturer in UCD’s Department of Sociology, where has co-taught Sociology 100 (“Classical and Modern Sociological Theory”) from 1995-1997, and again from 2000-2008. As a librarian, his current assignments include French Studies, German Studies, Western Europeana, Philosophy, and Anthropology. He earned his Ph.D. from the Department of Philosophy at Northwestern University in 1975, did a year of postdoctoral research in European social thought at the University of Minnesota (1975-1976), and taught social and sociological theory from 1973-1979. In 1981 he earned his Master’s Degree in Library and Information Studies at the University of Minnesota.


Tristan Josephson is a Ph.D. Candidate in Cultural Studies at the University of California, Davis, working on a dissertation that examines how relations of (im)mobility and displacement position transgender subjects in relation to legal and cultural constructions of U.S. citizenship and national belonging. He is working as a GSR for the Davis Humanities Institute for 2010-2011, providing coverage of humanities research as well as managing “This Week in the Humanities.”