Missing civility should be cured by choice, not order

Missing civility should be cured by choice, not order

by Angela Bacca & Sean Maher

NOVEMBER 15, 2007 11:06 AM

SF State students can have a problem getting along with one another, despite the CSU civility standard that orders them to do so.

On Sept. 11, the memorial service on campus held jointly by the College Republicans and College Democrats was interrupted by World Can’t Wait protesters stomping American flags spray-painted with swastikas. In 2002, a verbal clash between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian student groups collapsed into physical conflict. And it seems doubtful the born-again Christian groups denouncing homosexuality and the college party lifestyle will go away any time soon.

The student demonstrators who last year stomped on Hezbollah and Hamas flags finally received a last word on the legality of their behavior. Last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Wayne Brazil barred the CSU from punishing students, in this case the College Republicans at SF State, for violating the “civility code,” which requires students to be civil to one another.

The decision raises a delicate issue, tiptoeing the thin line between censorship and preserving other rights and freedoms. In a notoriously liberal student population, such frequently controversial groups as the College Republicans do bring something necessary and beneficial to the SF State campus: a diversity of opinion. They create and encourage essential dialogue and it would be wrong to bar them from speaking their minds.

But the vitriol such groups often bring to the table does nothing but harm the campus population, discouraging real dialogue and reinforcing our often-deserved reputation as thoughtless, knee-jerk college know-it-alls.

Such problems don’t usually need to be dealt with legally, and neither the College Republicans nor any other familiar campus hell raisers should be punished for offensive speech or expression. They should, however, practice more adult discretion when deciding whom to offend and how. We sympathize with the Gator GOP in opposing terrorism, acts of violence and the violation of their freedom of speech. But such flagrantly hostile behavior as flag stomping—on either side—only fuels hate and ignorance.

Observers see such strident, smug gestures, and their critical thinking functions shut down: they pick a side and stay there. The conversation is over—nobody’s listening.

Maybe all the warring factions on campus should grow up and agree to disagree without getting nasty or sue-happy.

The College Republicans could use their perspectives not to polarize our campus, but to legitimately diversify the information campus citizens receive. As a community, we should be willing to have them share their ideas with us.

But we remain disappointed and, frankly, bored with the College Republicans and their antics as representatives of the conservative viewpoint. Likewise, the World Can’t Wait protestors aren’t convincing anybody new that the war in Iraq is wrong. And nobody’s waking up to Jesus’ love because some jokers with signs tell them that God hates queers.

It’s dispiriting to see our local minority opinion leaders fighting with so little bravery, cowering behind the First Amendment to protect their thoughtless and cavalier expressions of what could otherwise be thought-provoking ideas.

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