GUEST COLUMN: Civility and the quest for a better society

Cajetan Iheka Graduate Student

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Civility, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, entails an “observance of civil order; orderly behavior; good citizenship.” In other words, acts of civility are those that promote order in society.

From the above, one notices that civility is an important characteristic expected of citizens of any stable society. In fact, Sam E. Ezeanyika has written that the level of civility exhibited by members of a society “determine the degree of stability and order in such a system.” Beyond the theoretical postulations of scholars like Ezeanyika, a particular CMU experience has also shown me that civility fosters social harmony.

I came to CMU from Nigeria in the fall of 2009 and I had the experience in the spring and fall of 2010. Like other international students, I received an email message from CMU Health Services in spring 2010. According to the e-mail message, it was compulsory for all foreign students to purchase a CMU health insurance policy beginning this fall. I was worried about the high cost of the CMU insurance policy and decided to mobilize other students to express our grievances to the appropriate quarters.

We held meetings that culminated in a protest rally in September 2010. Of course, we had to meet with President Ross and other university officials to protest against the seeming insensitivity of the directive from the University Health Services. At the end of negotiations, the university accepted our case, which allowed us to purchase any policy of our choice so far that it meets the minimum requirement set by the university. Also, we were permitted to purchase such a policy every semester as opposed to the one-year coverage earlier requested.

In all of these, I was impressed by the civility of the university officials who found time to listen to our grievances and to make the necessary concessions. The more interesting thing to me was that several international students avoided our meetings and rally, and when I inquired about their non-participation in our activities, I learned they were afraid the university could victimize us since we are foreign students. In fact, an Asian student warned me to be careful because my assistantship could be withdrawn by the university. In the end, concessions were made and nobody was victimized.

Overall, that experience showed me how civility could engender peaceful co-existence in a society. By adhering to civil procedures, the university and its international students were able to negotiate an acceptable compromise. The other thing I learned from that experience was that the use of force or other acts of incivility would have negatively affected the relationship between the university and its international students.