Civility will be the focus on the campus of East Tennessee State University next week.
The annual celebration begins Sunday with a talk by renowned CNN correspondent Soledad O’Brien at 8 p.m. in the Martha Street Culp Auditorium in the D.P. Culp University Center. The lecture is free and open to the public.
Other activities include the dedication of a fountain commemorating the school’s desegregation on Monday, the showing of the recent film Lincoln and several discussions about civil liberties.
According to the university, the theme for Civility Week is “My Story, Your Story, Our Story.” The theme will be the starting point for examining the “stories” that people everywhere create about one another through misunderstanding or a lack of personal connection with those who are different from themselves. Once individuals are able to express their own and listen to others’ stories, they can work together to create “our story.”
Shae Keane is secretary of state in the Student Government Association and was tasked in helping plan Civility Week. She said Civility Week is intended to give an opportunity for students, faculty, staff and the community in general to discuss civility issues on campus but also to recognize what the university is doing right with regards to civil issues.
O’Brien’s lecture is a good way to start the week, Keane said. In addition to her “Black in America” and “Latino in America” series, O’Brien’s recent documentaries have examined such topics as the lives of female rescue workers who were the first to respond to the World Trade Center terrorist attacks; public education; religious freedom protections; the secret life of Civil Rights photographer Ernest Withers as a paid FBI informant; the romance and marriage of William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; and the children of Haiti before, during and after the devastating earthquake of January 2010.
“Diversity: On TV, Behind the Scenes and In Our Lives” is the focus of O’Brien’s lecture.
“We’re really, really excited to have her come on campus because she’s done several really well-known documentaries related to issues in the nation...,” Keane said. “So she’s really covered a lot of issues that will be relevant to what we are discussing on campus, as well.”
Open dialogues are planned for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week with the themes “Beneath the Pigment: Ethnicity & Identity; Woman Matters: Celebrating Experiences, Inspiring Change; Beneath the Binary: Who We Are, Who We Love and How We Express, respectively.
“And those were actually issues that students brought forth in the planning committee meetings,” Keane said. “The other focus in the week was to offer opportunities for students to come to a different way of understanding civility and diversity through the use of art and expression.”
One of the many workshops and activities planned is a new “This is a Safe Space” program involving the ETSU Department of Housing and Residence Life. Students in residence halls can place a plaque on their doors indicating that their room is designated as a supportive and non-judgmental place welcoming everyone.
Members of the East Tennessee State University community and the general public are invited to join in honoring and remembering the five students who desegregated East Tennessee State College, now ETSU, at the official dedication of Memorial Fountain and a new Tennessee Historical Marker on Monday at noon in front of Sherrod Library.
Those to be honored and memorialized include Elizabeth Watkins Crawford, George L. Nichols, Mary Luellen Owens Wagner, and the late Eugene Caruthers and Clarence McKinney.
A reception will immediately follow the ceremony. For more information or special assistance for those with disabilities, call the ETSU Office of University Relations at (423) 439-4317
The showing of the film Lincoln was actually suggested by another student group separate from SGA, but was included in Civility Week because it fit with the theme, Keane said. The film will be shown Friday at 7 p.m. in the Culp Auditorium.
Keane said over the years, ETSU has focused seriously on civil issues and hopes that this coming week helps foster more discussion and keeps ETSU moving in the right direction.
“I think overall that the hope expressed from the students who have come together to plan this is that it creates the space for dialogue rather than creating fear regarding these issues,” Keane said. “It’s not debate focused, rather it’s kind of connecting at a person to person level, just recognizing people’s experiences and also the diversity that’s represented on our campus and learning how to put forth civility as a primary value as a campus.
“I think that actually we’re at a place in ETSU’s history where this is becoming more in the forefront and being highly recognized rather than falling back as an issue that’s not being addressed, so I think we’re doing pretty well as a campus on that,” Keane said.
A full list of events planned for Civility Week can be found at http://www.etsu.edu/students/sorc/calendar.aspx .