So much sets Longwood apart—our traditions, our beautiful campus and our sense of community, to name just a few. During these challenging times in our nation, something else distinctive that pervades here has increasingly caught my eye: civility.
With shouting and personal insults the coin of the realm on cable TV and social media, it is easy to despair about incivility. Here at Longwood, we certainly have a range of opinions and even disputes. Our student body mirrors the diversity of viewpoints in the Commonwealth and nation, and not infrequently their views and even core principles are challenged by those around them.
That’s a big part of what college is about. And yet, with only the very rarest exceptions, civility prevails at Longwood in these encounters. Students ask tough questions and debate, but the starting point is almost always respect for the dignity and place in our community of all of their fellow students. In the class I teach each fall on the U.S. presidency, even when difﬁcult political topics come up, respectful dialogue prevails. Like any college campus, we have controversies and issues about which students feel strongly—perhaps more than our share given how intensely we encourage our students to be citizen leaders. But even in cases of great passion, in my experience, Longwood students listen to one another, treat one another with respect, and work through the institutions of campus life such as student government or student publications to have their concerns heard and addressed.
One reason civility prevails at Longwood is that it must—we all live and work closely together. Residential college campuses like Longwood are the most diverse communities in which many of our students will ever live. Sadly, they’re one of the few remaining places in American life where citizens regularly encounter people with views different from their own—face-to-face, not just through social media. That’s one reason I believe residential colleges like Longwood must endure: They are an essential training ground for democracy. The graduates of such institutions will have to play a leading role to help bind up the wounds of our current era.
But I believe the civility that prevails at Longwood and which our students carry into the world goes further, and its sources run deeper. It emanates from a culture of civil student leadership, established through the generations and visible in numerous student organizations starting with the SGA. It follows from a tone set by faculty, coaches and our student affairs staff—something in our institutional DNA—that is by no means universal or even common at other institutions.
Going forward, civility will be front and center in bold, intentional and truly unique new ways in Longwood’s classrooms. The new Brock Experiences will cultivate civility by introducing students in person to a broad range of stakeholders involved in difﬁcult civic challenges ranging from the environment to immigration to the arts. Later this summer, the incoming Class of 2022 will be the first to experience Longwood’s new Civitae core curriculum, which explicitly ties our citizen leadership mission to our academic enterprise for the first time. Civitae courses are currently being rolled out by every discipline at the university, but a key common ingredient—and something our students will think deeply about at virtually every step along their path to graduation— is nurturing civility.
I hope it makes you proud, as it does me, to see Longwood as a beacon and an example for others to follow.
W. Taylor Reveley IV
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