Penn State Intercom......October 19, 2000

The Crisis of Civility:
A message from President Spanier

“Actions that threaten the dignity or safety of We are in the midst of a national crisis. It is not a crisis that is in the news or that politicians are pointing to during this election season. But it is a crisis none the less. It is the crisis of civility -- and the lack of it appears to be growing.

As an educator, parent and citizen, I am troubled by the erosion of civility, the unwillingness to compromise and the in-your-face rudeness that appears to have become an accepted part of life in America.

Among the values I hold most dear are sensitivity, tolerance and acceptance. I have tried to stress these ideals whenever I have had the opportunity. The problem goes beyond simple lack of respect for others to more serious matters such as racial discrimination, hate mail, anti-Semitism and other forms of religious intolerance, harassment of gays and lesbians, rock throwing and alcohol-fueled acts of disorderly conduct.

While these actions are intolerable and create an intimidating, hostile and offensive environment, some acts are even more shocking -- like sexual harassment and assault.

Such acts go well beyond mere incivility and enter the realm of criminal behavior.

As I survey the events of the past year closest to home, at Penn State, I am alarmed by the growing number of acts that are rooted in anger and insensitivity. Such incidents are especially abhorrent in a university community where we emphasize enlightenment, respect and compassion. Within a university community, we bring together individuals of vastly different backgrounds, viewpoints and personal characteristics. For some, this may be their first true interaction with people with different personal characteristics. We must all strive to live and learn together. It is the right of every member of our community -- of any community -- to be accepted, respected and supported.

Actions that threaten the dignity or safety of any one of us represent threats to all of us. As disturbing as violent or hateful actions are, our acceptance of such acts is even more distressing. These problems will not take care of themselves. In fact, if left alone, incivility and violence will fester and spread.

As individuals, we each have a role to play -- intervening when we see certain behaviors around us, encouraging someone to report an incident, supporting those who speak about incivility, rejecting bigotry, renewing our expectations for a civil society and doing whatever we can to create a safer environment.

There will be times when appalling incidents occur -- incidents that make us question the moral fabric of the community in which we live, work and learn. When that happens we need to pull together and use every available resource to provide help to victims.

Despite the excellent efforts of so many Penn State staff in dealing with problems that have arisen already this year, a surprising number of communications circulating on campus this semester have been particularly critical and hostile in their tone. I sincerely believe that the most important things we can do are to support each other and to improve the campus climate by addressing problems -- rather than attacking those whose constructive efforts might be perceived as falling short.

In my State of the University Address, I spoke about how a "we versus they" approach tends to permeate universities. Our progress will surely be constrained if this is our approach to seeking solutions to the problems of incivility, hate and crime.

My great hope is that Penn State will exist as a shining example of tolerance and respect; as a place where diverse cultures, viewpoints and ideas can come together peacefully and thoughtfully, with an appreciation of why we are all here: to learn, discover and grow as individuals.