Civility Project Debuts Multimedia Works

For the last eighteen months, dozens of graduate and undergraduate students as well as faculty and staff have been hard at work creating the multifaceted Civility Project. On Thursday (October 27), their work was finally revealed to the public at the Civility Project launch event. Nearly 100 members of the UC Davis community witnessed the unveiling of the project’s three components: a museum exhibition, a website, and a documentary theatre production, all of which explore civility and incivility from many vantage points.

The goal of these projects, according to Humanities Institute Director and Civility Project co-Director Carolyn de la Peña, is “to shed light on dynamics of intolerance, to examine how we have reacted to incidents of incivility here at UC Davis, and to overcome barriers to inclusion that may exist in our university.” De la Peña, who returned from a sabbatical in Spain to take part in the launch event, cited the long list of participants, including students, faculty, staff, and administrators, as evidence that these conversations matter to the campus community.

The exhibition titled Paper Takes: The Power of Uncivil Words, uses the United States’ leading collection of “extreme” pamphlets—housed in Shields Special Collections—to explore the explanatory power of uncivil words in order to identify and combat their circulation today.

The website includes two components. “The Limits of Civility” provides an interactive history of incivility on UC campuses in the context of the public university as an environment characterized by goals that often seem to be in tension: nourishing free expression and the exchange of ideas, and facilitating inclusion and tolerance in an increasingly diverse population, “Making Sense of (In)Civility: Voices from UC Davis” offers a case-study exploration of civility as understood by members of the UC Davis community.

Last Thursday, conversations buzzed in the Buehler Alumni Center as people strolled through the exhibit and began to browse the website. History graduate student Neel Amin found the exhibit particularly striking. “As a historian, the ideas [in the pamphlets] are familiar,” said Amin, “but to see them in print is surprising. Seeing them displayed together really gets people thinking.” Fellow history grad Elad Alyagon agreed, noting the display’s inclusion of YouTube videos: “Seeing the videos alongside the pamphlets shows that these ideas are still present. I hope this project brings in a larger audience and reaches undergraduates.”

Across the street at the Vanderhoef Theatre, the documentary theater performance (Un)Civil (Dis)Obedience explored 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.

The Civility Project was conceived as campus communities began to discuss their reactions to these incidents. “A critical mass of people interested in discussing civility developed,” said Civility Project co-director Jessica Loudermilk, “both in the context of these incidents and in the context of a larger sense that political discourse had become increasingly uncivil.”

Catalyzed by a visit from National Endowment for the Humanities chair Jim Leach, Chancellor Linda Katehi and Davis Humanities Institute Director Carolyn de la Peña conceived the project as a way to use UC Davis’s unique strengths in research across disciplines to address these issues. Incorporating research from the social sciences, humanities, and arts, the project was designed to engage members of the university community in an examination of how we define and achieve civility on campus.

Sociology PhD candidate and Civility Project participant Julie Setele said that this interdisciplinarity was a major benefit of the project. “It gave me the opportunity to get different perspectives on my work and to see how it could build into something bigger and richer.”

Paper Takes will be on display at the Buehler Alumni Center until November 30, 2011. The website will have a permanent  home at UC Davis, and the video recording of (Un)Civil (Dis)Obedience will be  hosted on the UC Davis iTunesU and YouTube channels.

“Institutions like UC Davis have power to do many things for students: expose them to new ideas; expose them to difference; and expose them to new ways of thinking” said Vice-Chancellor for Campus-Community Relations Rahim Reed. “We also have the responsibility to respect the dignity of every human.” Reed noted that the Civility Project launch event was just the first of a year-long Hate Free Campus Initiative.

The next event will be Miracle in Rwanda, a one-woman performance telling the remarkable story of Rwandan Genocide survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza on November 3 and 4 at the Mondavi Center’s Vanderhoef Studio Theatre.

“Tolerance is not enough,” said Reed. “Projects like this will help UC Davis move beyond tolerance to building a truly inclusive campus.”