Urgo Urges For Campus Civility

Dear St. Mary’s College Community:

In conversations with students, faculty, and staff over the last few weeks, a recurring theme of civility on campus has emerged. Simply put, the word on the banks of the St. Mary’s River is that people are becoming less nice.

I’m told there are fewer greetings on The Path and more ear buds cocooning playlists that have left their owners insulated from passers-by. There also seems to be a rise in mean-spiritedness. These issues are prickly because while we want everyone to be nice to one another, we all have the right to be asinine sometimes.

So, this message is not about being selfish or hoarding the jellybeans. That’s human nature. When I think of civility I think more of the work it takes to create, maintain, and participate in a community.

I am thinking more specifically about cleaning up after ourselves, holding the door for others, looking people in the eye, smiling, and (remember the old lesson?) treating others as you would want to be treated.

At college we study the best that’s been thought, said, created, imagined. That’s a high bar for behavior. Under observation, how will the critics assess our contribution? High quality? Worthy of national distribution? Or, destined for rubbish and not even recyclable?

I don’t think we need to be nice all the time. I agree with the idea articulated by Abbie Hoffman, a defendant from the Chicago Seven trial a generation ago:  “When decorum is repression, the only dignity free men [and women] have is to speak out.”

We always need space for dramatic articulation. At the same time, this is our home. Let’s not soil where we eat. Civility has its place in our learning environment as a key component in creating and maintaining our community.

As news about our institution is sent into cyberspace via YouTube videos, Tweets and Facebook pages, we all have a hand in shaping the content of OurTube. Let’s reflect on our interaction with others, just for a moment, and decide how we want St. Mary’s story to be told throughout the community, the state of Maryland, the country—and the world.

Joseph Urgo


St. Mary’s College of Maryland


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