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11,500 ASU freshmen set to receive training in art of civil communications.
Sun Devil Civility plans to expand from incoming freshmen to other groups.
January 27, 2017

University initiative aims to promote communication skills, finding common ground through peer-to-peer training

In a time of heated rhetoric and fraying decorum, Arizona State University is planning to train incoming freshmen in the art of civility.

Nearly 11,500 new students will take a three-hour workshop called “The Art of Inclusive Communication” next fall, with the hope that they begin their college careers with the skills to find common ground with one another.  

The Office of Student and Cultural Engagement has been piloting a workshop with students, faculty and staff for more than a year and has hired 32 student facilitators, who will train 1,400 students this spring, according to Mark Sanders, senior coordinator of the office, which is part of Educational Outreach and Student Services at ASU.

“The underlying goal is to celebrate and recognize differences and to get people to learn from each other and advance the idea of inclusion and access — all of those great things the ASU charterThe ASU charter: ASU is a comprehensive public university that is measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed; advancing research and discovery of public value; and assuring fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health our the communities it serves. is about,” he said.

Emily Kwon said she learned how to talk through emotionally charged conversations at the workshop.

“The art of communication is an undervalued art. People need to realize that the way you say it really does matter,” she said. “Especially with recent events, opinions are heated and people won’t listen to each other because of the high-impact emotions.

“So we learned that people have different opinions, and that’s OK. And it’s important to discuss it in a productive manner and how to move on,” said Kwon, a senior majoring in biological sciences.

The peer-to-peer training will be key in working with the incoming freshmen next fall.

“It’s not about ‘let’s come in and preach at you about civility,’ ” Sanders said. “They’ll talk about identity and unconscious bias, and students say, ‘I never thought about it that way before.’ And freshmen have the attitude of, ‘OK, teach me some cool things.’ ” 

Besides practical skills for managing conflict, workshop participants learn about their own values and communication style.

The idea for encouraging civility started about two years ago, when leaders at ASU noticed some issues on campus and decided to partner with the National Center for Conflict ResolutionNCRC was founded in 1983 by the University of San Diego Law Center and the San Diego County Bar Association., a San Diego-based nonprofit organization.

“We had free speech visitors coming in and yelling at people, and people were not responding in the best way,” Sanders said of the confrontations that occurred between proselytizers and students.

The National Center for Conflict Resolution partners with other universities, but ASU’s university-wide initiative is unique. First-time freshmen at the Tempe, Polytechnic, Downtown Phoenix and West campuses will get the training within the first eight weeks of the fall semester. Eventually, other groups will get the opportunity, including transfer, graduate, international and online students.

The Student and Cultural Engagement office offers other workshops that promote communication and respect, including “Navigating the Rainbow of Inclusion,” “Interfaith Identities: Learning and Conversation,” “Different Faces, Same Spaces: Diversifying Cross-Cultural Dialogue and Interactions” and “Global Allies Training.”

All of that will be gathered under one umbrella called Sun Devil Civility.

“The hope is that this serves as the basic platform, and it launches from there,” he said. “How do you engage with your peers? How do you move forward in the cycle of life at ASU? And what can you do to create civility and a sense of community in the citizenry of ASU, Arizona, the U.S. and the globe?”

Fasha Johari, the president of ASU’s Coalition of International Students, is a Muslim student from Malaysia. She said the tips she learned in the workshop have helped her with some uncomfortable situations.

“It’s helped me to not engage with people who want to provoke,” she said. “They want that kind of reaction so they can say, ‘This person is aggressive.’ ”

A senior majoring in biological sciences, Johari said ASU has improved in the four years she has been here.

“I really think ASU is moving forward to include all of us. They really help a lot in terms of making this a second home for us.”

Sanders said the goal of Sun Devil Civility is that students can complete several of the workshops and acquire a certificate in civility training.

“I have this vivid image that 20 years from now, these students will be our senators and representatives who say, ‘In college I learned how to have a conversation with you.’ And, ‘We disagree, but we can make this about the global good.’ ”

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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Jimmy Carter accepts O’Connor Justice Prize at ASU ceremony

ASU honors Jimmy Carter for humanitarian work.
The Carter Center focuses on world peace, democracy and disease prevention.
January 27, 2017

Former president receives honor for humanitarian work focused on world peace, democracy and disease prevention

Former President Jimmy Carter said Friday that the U.S. should be “a champion of peace,” “human rights” and “generosity,” aspirations he said would stem worries over the country’s future.

“We should be the nation on Earth where anyone who has a conflict or potential for military conflict, they should say ‘Why don’t we go to Washington?’ ” he said shortly after accepting the O’Connor Justice Prize, administered by Arizona State University and named for retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.  

“The United States is a champion of peace. The United States is a champion of human rights. The United States is a champion of generosity … America reaches out to people in need because we are the greatest country. That’s the kind of super power the United States ought to be.”

Carter, 92, visited Phoenix to accept the honor for his post-presidency humanitarian work. Through his nonprofit, The Carter Center, he has focused on world peace, democracy and disease prevention. He became the first ex-president to win the honor, which recognizes O’Connor’s legacy and efforts on behalf of judicial independence and human rights.  

Previous winners include Ana Palacio, a former foreign affairs minister for Spain who worked to incorporate human rights into the fabric of the European Union, and Navanethem Pillay, a former South African judge who fought apartheid.

About 300 people attended the award ceremony at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel.

Patricia Wald, whom Carter appointed as a federal appeals court judge, presented the award while O’Connor applauded with the audience. 

“His achievements out of office is just as impressive as his achievements while in office,” Wald said, adding that his integrity and honesty restored trust in government in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

She also noted his international legacy, saying “he has sincerely earned his title as the ‘human rights president.’”

Palacio led a brief Q&A session with Carter, ranging from world peace to women’s rights.

“Peace, justice and human rights have been the guiding light of our organization from the beginning,” Carter said. He added human rights must be “fair, honest and vigorously pursued.”

Carter said one of his proudest accomplishments in office was appointing more women as federal judges than all previous presidents combined.

At the time, he said, “it wasn’t easy to find women who were qualified for their service in the judicial system, because there were not deans in law schools and not heads of law firms” who were women.

Carter served as president from 1977 to 1981. During his time in office, he established diplomatic relations with China and forged an arms-limitation deal with Russia.   

Since then, he has used his Atlanta-based center to eradicate Guinea worm disease and mediate conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. He also supports human activists by appealing on their behalf to world leaders.

He said the idea for the center was seeded at Camp David in 1978 while negotiating a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

“We felt like we could offer our mediation services to the world, and we began to do that,” Carter said. “I soon realized that was just one aspect of it … later we expanded our horizons a little bit to fill all the vacuums in the world.”

Last year, the center focused on advancing the peace process in Sudan, fighting malaria in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and monitoring the presidential election in Zambia.  

Carter said he has observed and monitored more than 100 elections around the world.   

His center’s mission is “guided by a fundamental commitment to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering.”

The former Georgia governor, Navy veteran and peanut farmer won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for his “decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development,” according to the Nobel Foundation’s website.

The 86-year-old O’Connor watched the ceremony from a wheelchair in the front row.

Carter thanked her, calling the former justice a “great hero” and one of his “favorite fly-fishing companions.”

“I didn’t always agree with everything that Ronald Reagan did,” Carter said, “but selecting her as a justice was one of the best decisions he ever made.”

Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now.