Column: Civility uncommon among Huskies

I’m sitting at a desk, quietly eating a banana and periodically checking my phone for any new text messages. There’s a girl beside me who is checking her e-mail on her laptop and eating a cup of noodle soup. There’s nothing unusual about the scene, not even the fact that it is set in a classroom amid a lecture. But the normalcy of it doesn’t make it right, and the apparent lack of classroom civility has me feeling awkward and inappropriate.

Civility was not a lesson that was taught during my time at prep school, but it was something that was expected. It is something that I have learned to appreciate and to respect, especially in its absence.

I always thought that simple rules like not leaving a classroom mid-lecture for a coffee break, or never interrupting a professor while speaking, were universal rules of etiquette familiar to all college students. But as I near graduation this May, I feel as though my time in college has been absent of the one thing I wish we all learned more about: civility.

Before I was even introduced to college applications, I attended a new student convocation at Washington College, a small liberal arts school in Maryland, most notable for being the first college founded in the new nation. I remember sitting in a row of folding chairs in a brightly-lit gymnasium beside my sister, who was both nervous and excited about the new school in which she enrolled. I’ll never forget the little red hardback books everyone received. To distract myself from the late summer heat that was making the backs of my legs stick uncomfortably to my chair, I decided to read it.

The book was written by Washington, the college’s founding father, and titled, “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” For only 30 pages the book has 110 rules, which I found to be, at the time, a bit much. Still, I patiently thumbed through the rules, beginning with the first one: every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect, to those that are present.

My first semester of college taught me that this first rule, along with several others, would quickly be violated.

I admit that I have not always been the most civil college student. There are times when I have walked into a classroom early and have taken my seat beside someone, and rather than saying hello to them I would flip open my cell phone instead. Or worse, I would sit in silence and wonder why no one else seemed to acknowledge one another.

And I admit that I’ve been frustrated when people leave their trash on tables, forget to hold open doors, spit on the sidewalk or unnecessarily raise their voice to a professor.

I even recall when I first joined the News a few years ago, my section editor warned me that readers only commented on online stories they didn’t like – and that when they did, the comments were most always demeaning. When I asked why, he simply told me: because they can.

The bottom line is that anyone can be uncivil, rude or just plain unfriendly. I’ve been guilty of it too at times. But the point is that when it comes to civility and common courtesy, a little bit goes a long way.

There are plenty of aspects about Northeastern that are worthy of celebration and praise. Let’s make civility one of them.

– Rebecca Fenton can be reached at [email protected]

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