Cultivating a Campus Culture of Civility


Incivility permeates our culture including in colleges and universities. Higher education influences each generation, engenders critical thinking, and establishes cultural norms for professionals. When we teach and model ways to facilitate robust, yet civil, discourse about controversial topics, we empower students to be constructive, civil, and engaged citizens in an increasingly polarized world. After offering a definition and framework for thinking about civility, the paper summarizes the pervasiveness and cost of incivility in our society generally and the presence and impact of incivility on schools specifically. The paper then provides suggestions on ways that higher education can cultivate a campus culture of civility.


Alfie Scholars Response to the 2016 Presidential Election

November 9, 2016

To the Seattle University Community, on behalf of the Alfie Scholars of Seattle University,

We, the inaugural cohort of the Alfie Scholars program at Seattle University, offer this response to the results of our nation’s recent Presidential election.

Seattle University’s mission for a just and humane world compels us, as civility leaders, to reach out to the greater Seattle University community to offer words of reflection as well as to communicate our promise to continue to engage in the fight for what we believe in and what defines us.  For those who do not know what an Alfie Scholar is, we are a highly diverse group of high-achieving transfer students who’ve fought through serious adversity for the honor of obtaining a justice-oriented education.  Our governing principle of civility aligns with principles of service, responsibility, and justice. Our instinctive understanding of the full-bodied precedent of unity, as exemplified by so many of the civility leaders who’ve come before us, leads us to foster betterment in ourselves, and in the hearts and minds of others when the chips are down.

In the past eighteen months, we have watched as our common decency has fallen in the face of fear. It is a natural response to be tempted to allow ourselves to trip into a trap of lasting despair, but we argue that it is more important than ever to situate ourselves within the spectrum of love.  Now is not the time to engage in the pathology of divisiveness. It is a moment that will test our resolve as individuals who organically understand that what lives in our hearts has the power to thrust us toward a better tomorrow. In this spirit, we wish to offer our compassion to our Mother Earth, our brothers and sisters of color, our Muslim friends, our Native American tribes, our LGBTQ families, the poor and impoverished, and all those questioning their safety as we digest what the future may bring.

We feel strongly that our Seattle University community has the potential to set an example for strength in leadership, specifically leadership that stands boldly to represent what is right and good within each of us.  Margaret Mead’s famous quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”, embodies our ideology of staying grounded, as we engage those with whom we have fierce disagreement with. Civility thrives on connectivity, so we reach out today in an effort to both introduce ourselves and to extend our arms to the SU community.  We are here to work alongside you, as we begin the arduous work of establishing our common voice as the dominant voice for a more inclusive discourse. In a broader sense, the confrontation of extremes reminds us of our responsibility as arbiters, the importance of communication, understanding and interaction in a much polarized national conversation.  We believe that this resonates even more clearly in context when Americans face the potential of global isolation.

In Civil Solidarity,

Nizama Djudrija, Criminal Justice, Class of 2018
Aminata Drammeh, Business, Class of 2018
Pa Ousman Jobe, Business, Class of 2018
Julia Mariga, Nursing, Class of 2018
Dian “D.D.” Meakin, Sociology, Class of 2018
David Morales-Rosales, Criminal Justice, Class of 2018
Gabriel Narvaez, Sociology, Class of 2018
Giang Nguyen, Business, Class of 2018, Class of 2018
Hiba Salama, Diagnostic Ultrasound, Class of 2018
Mahakdeep Singh, Engineering, Class of 2018

Seattle University Officially Launches the Alfie Scholars Program

President Stephen Sundborg officially launched the Alfie Scholars Program at Seattle University on Wednesday, March 9, 2016. Over 50 representatives from Seattle University, local community colleges, and individuals from around Seattle gathered to celebrate the launch of the Alfie Scholars Program at Seattle University, an innovative academic support scholarship for transfer students. 


The program included remarks from Marilyn Crone, Vice President for Enrollment Management, Father Stephen Sundborg, President of Seattle University, Professor Paula Lustbader, President of Alfie's Fund, and Carol Cochran, Program Director of Alfie Scholars.

The application deadline for the 2016 Alfie Scholars cohort is March 27, 2016. 

Carol Cochran, program director of alfie scholars, professor paula lustbader, president of alfie's fund, father stephen sundbord, president of seattle university

Carol Cochran, program director of alfie scholars, professor paula lustbader, president of alfie's fund, father stephen sundbord, president of seattle university

What do we mean by 'Civility'?

Professor Paula Lustbader speaks to the definition of civility and its importance during the Alfie Scholars at Seattle University launch event on March 9, 2016.

What do we mean by civility?

We certainly know we need it more than ever, right? Anybody been watching the debates recently? Anybody looking at what's going on in our country and notice the crassness, the crudeness, and the lack of sensitivity? Rather than coming together in our shared humanity, some people want to close the borders and build the walls. I'm not naming names. But this is a moment that kind of cries out for civility.

What do we mean by civility? Civility is living by the Golden Rule, which has its version in all the major religions and most of you were raised with a version of the Golden Rule as a guiding life principle. So civility at its most basic is to treat others as you wish to by treated. But what does that mean?  Think about somebody who is a role model of civility. What is one word that would describe them?
















Mensch. A good mensch is a person of honor. You know, we have to leave it with mensch, right? A mensch is a civil person. That's right. What does civility mean? There's a variety of definitions out there, and I had a whole bunch of them written out, and then I thought, I'm not going to give a lecture today.

The main thing is at core, all of the definitions include some piece of the Golden Rule, some element of respect, and it's about a way of approaching and seeing others, and an openness to be with others. We're not saying you have to be agreeable and roll over and be docile and let people steam roll you. We're not saying civility means one can't disagree with another person. It's really the way in which you go about having the conversation and the way in which you approach it. We call it the Tai Chi of civility because it's about an attitude as much as behavior and skill set. It's all of that. It's not just one set of rules.

Civility calls upon us to do more than tolerate each other and our differences. It requires us to even do more than what Aretha asks for: Respect. It's important to be respectful, but civility also calls upon us to be curious, because when we're really curious about others and our differences, then we will value what all of that brings, and in so doing, we can have a more, this is where our missions coalesce, just and humane world. We will treat each other differently.

We need to connect in our shared humanity through many acts of civility little and big. I was reading on a blog post just the other day on the Mighty website. Anybody ever look at the Mighty website? It's interesting. I won't go into that, but this woman, Debra Green, was writing about what occurred to her in thanking strangers that came to her aid ten months ago. She describes this moment where she had just started shopping in the Whole Foods and her shopping cart was partially full. She was standing near the entrance and she got a phone call from her brother. The brother says, “I hate to tell you, but our father just died. He killed himself.” She falls to her knees, lets out an agonizing scream, and these strangers came to her aid. The strangers are picking up her phone, trying to find the contact for her husband. One says can I pray for you and your father, and she says sure, and then this woman starts praying to Jesus, and she's like, hey, we're Jewish, you know, but it was wonderful. It was a wonderful moment.

Another one is planning trying to figure out how to get this woman back home in one piece, so they're planning, “I can drive her back in her car, you follow me in your car, and then we can come back.” Then Debra, who's in a puddle on the floor, says, “you know, I have a friend who works here. Maybe she's here.” Sure enough they find the friend, and the friend comes to her aid and takes her back into the employee section and calls the husband to come get her.

And the strangers bought her a gift card for Whole Foods to pay for her groceries so that she would know that they were still holding her. Debra ends her post by saying, "Your kindness, your compassion, your willingness to help a stranger in need have stayed with me until this day, and no matter how many times my mind takes me back to that horrible life altering moment, it's not all darkness because you reached out to help. You offered a ray of light in the bleakest moment I've ever endured. You may not even remember it. You may not remember me, but I will never, ever forget you, and though you may never know it, I give thanks for your presence and humanity each and every day."

The power of civility is that through these small acts of kindness, we can transform lives. You'll never know the light you can bring to somebody else's darkness, and that's just so eloquent. I just think that's really what we're talking about with civility.

When we're talking about civility, we're asking people to be conscious and aware of their own issues and aware of the people around them. We're asking them to be creative and open-minded, and to realize there are many different ways to perceive what is before us. My way isn't the only way. I have a colleague and dear friend who was explaining she was in a meeting that was getting very contentious, and she finally said, “you know, I just would like to share my truth,” and I thought, what a great way to give room for other truths, but to also be heard. I think that's how we get to be heard, and we get to be listened to so our ideas can flourish, and we can actually get to a better result when we bring everybody's voices to the table.

Lastly, civility asks us to be community-oriented. The Dalai Lama says that the greatest secret to happiness is being in service to others? Think about it. Think about that good feeling you have when you know you've helped somebody else. Archbishop Desmond Tutu talks about Ubuntu, which is this concept that human beings are inextricably connected to the one another, and we are connected in such a deep way that our humanity depends upon us honoring the other. He says, “I need you to be the best you can be because that's the only way I can be the best I can be.” So together collectively, we're all rising with the tide.

I'll end with this other story. I don't know how many of you watched or saw on the news this summer. In July, there was a protest going on in South Carolina, and it was right after they moved the Confederate flag from state grounds in South Carolina. On one side of the courthouse grounds, there was a Black Lives Matter protest going on, and on the other side was the neo Nazis protesting against taking the flag down. In the middle of this scene was Leroy Smith, who is a black state trooper in his uniform, and he was on duty at the statehouse grounds. He saw an elderly white man with a swastika t-shirt on who was starting to collapse, had heat exhaustion. He took that man, took him by the arm, and he walked him up five flights of stairs to get him to a place where it was cool and he could sit inside the house.

There was a photograph of Leroy helping and this man.  This photograph was taken on an iPhone and posted on social media, and it went completely viral. This powerful, powerful image of not just helping a stranger that's a neutral encounter, but actually seeing a someone, Leroy, come to the aid of somebody who represents hatred towards him and his race.  There may be a lot more beneath that that would have had to work through, but Leroy didn't stop to question it. Leroy just stepped up and helped this man because in that moment all he saw a was a fellow human suffering. He didn't see the swastika or give it meaning. When interviewed about why he thought this photograph went viral and had struck such a chord in our culture, Leroy Smith said, “Love. I think that's the greatest thing in the world. It was love.”

I would say it was love, but it was love that was embodied in the act of true civility. Thank you.

Ready to Launch

New Alfie Scholars program will enroll transfer students, increase diversity and promote civility

Story by: Dean Forbes and Mike Thee
Published March 1, 2016 in Seattle University's The Commons

On March 9 the university will publicly launch a new scholarship program for community college transfer students. 

As announced by President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., in January, Alfie Scholars annually will admit 15 transfer students from diverse populations backed by a $10,000 annual scholarship for two years. The focus on developing leaders who foster civility in their professions and society makes this program stand out.  

Alfie Scholars is dedicated to making the dream of attaining a bachelor's degree a reality for transfer students from two-year colleges, to increasing diversity on campus and in the workforce and to promoting leadership to foster civility in society. The program will be available to students who want to transfer to SU beginning with the start of the 2016-17 academic year. (Recipients would still need to go through SU's regular admissions application process.) 

The program provides the following:

  • A $10,000 annual scholarship.
  • Academic support programming that prepares students for the increased academic rigor of a four-year university.
  • Opportunities to create mutually reinforcing relationships.
  • A customized curriculum to develop leadership skills.
  • Preparation to become leaders who foster civility in their professions and society.

With a $500,000 annual budget, the scholarship program is funded by Alife's Fund and headed by Seattle University School of Law Professor Emerita Paula Lustbader. Students will begin the year in August by taking one of the university-required core courses, which will give them a an opportunity to adjust to the academic rigor, to lighten their course load during the academic year, and to form a sense of community on campus and within their cohort.

In 2008, Paula's father, Alfred Lustbader, founded Robert's Fund, named for his brother, to foster civility in the legal profession. In 2014, he founded Alfie's Fund to provide support to help change a life. The Alfie Scholars program is the fund's first initiative. 

The Lustbaders chose to benefit transfer students because they are, in Paula's words, an untapped resource of students who have ideas, energy and perspectives who don't have as much access to four-year colleges using the normal channels of admissions and financial aid programs that are available to non-transfer students. 

Paula, herself once a community college transfer student, retired from SU in 2015.  She now runs both foundations. 

"This an underserved population-there's not a lot of support available for transfer students," she says. And by support, she means financial and otherwise. A number of support services and academic enrichment programs will be available to the recipients, including a full-time director, Carol Cochran, who will ensure students get the resources they need to succeed and earn their degrees. 

A big part of the program's effectiveness is expected to derive from the cohort model. As Lustbader explains, transfer students come into an environment in which relationships among traditional students who entered as freshmen are already established and transfers can easily feel like outsiders. Alfie Scholars will be connected to each other through a variety of activities. "We want to help them realize that they're here for a mission that's bigger than them," says Lustbader. 

Civility is another major thrust of the Alfie Scholars program. Lustbader explains, "Much more can happen constructively-for our relationships, for our productivity, for our environment-if we can all be mutually respectful, considerate and treat people as we would like to be treated. We as a society need to embrace our differences and embrace our shared humanity." 

"Communication is a big part of this. We're not advocating for not having different opinions or disagreements; on the contrary, we should robustly be saying, 'I don't understand your perspective because my truth is this, so educate me.' What I want to do is. We hope to help engender a curiosity about other perspectives so we can respectfully discuss issues, increase our understanding, and create best solutions." 

How then to foster that kind of commitment to civility among the Alfie Scholars? 

"Some of it comes from modeling and educating skills to increase emotional intelligence and effective communication…to cultivate an enhanced awareness of the variety of ways each of our behaviors and words impact others." 

Alfie Scholars will also take a course developed specifically for the cohort on leadership and civility. "Our goal is that they will be ambassadors for civility while they're at the university, as well as when they enter their chosen field." 

The Alfie Scholars program follows in the footsteps of a program that Lustbader co-founded in the law school in 1987 called the Academic Resource Center, the law school's access admissions program. That program's mission-to increase diversity in the profession-annually accepted 30 students who showed promise but whose backgrounds predicted them not to be successful. Upon admission to the law school, those students received academic support and were part of a learning cohort that embraced the school's mission. Students in the highly regarded program have excelled, with many of them going on to distinguished careers and serving their communities. 

Lustbader is a recognized leader in opening new avenues of access to underrepresented students. She was given the Association of American Law Schools Section on Academic Support Award for Excellence in Legal Education. The Washington State Bar Association recognized her outstanding contributions by naming her co-recipient of the organization's Award for Excellence in Diversity (2006). In 2010, she received the Loren Miller Bar Association President's Award for her role in increasing the diversity in the legal profession.