Jim Leach is going on tour.
The chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) will bring his 50-state “civility tour” to Davis Thursday at 11 a.m. in Freeborn Hall, featuring lessons on mutual respect and understanding for others.
He urges his listeners to use vocabulary conducive to a civil environment, especially among different ethnicities and religions.
“It looks as if America is divided,” Leach said. “Acting out against someone because of their ethnic background is an unacceptable way of behaving and we need to address it.”
The tour coincides with the 20th anniversary of the UC Davis Principles of Community, which Leach said should be hung above the door of the House of Representatives and members of the U.S. government should aspire to follow the ideals adopted by UC Davis.
The principles include several values for the UC Davis community with which to follow and make judgments. These ideals fall under the umbrella of respect for the dignity of all human beings, said Associate Executive Vice Chancellor Rahim Reed.
The similarities of UC Davis’s principles and Leach’s civility tour makes the speech the ideal event to kick off a yearlong celebration of the principles, Reed said. The celebration will include more keynote speakers as well as a public re-signing of the principles by leaders in the community.
Reed also said that the speech will be timely due to the vandalism on campus at the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center (LGBTRC) and the six swastikas carved and spray painted on and around campus.
“Given these recent incidences of hate and biases that have been committed on our campus, we thought it would be appropriate in our twentieth celebration to discuss these various themes with such a distinguished speaker,” Reed said.
However, civility isn’t as simple as toleration; there must be more interaction for one person to understand another person, argued Hailey Ferroni, a junior psychology and Native American studies major.
“Being civil with one another might mean coexisting without having to interact with other people,” said Ferroni, who is currently a resident advisor and will be the co-coordinator of the Peer Education And Community Empowerment program next year. “It’s more peaceful, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you understand someone else.”
She added that sometimes those in power will place themselves in a more civil light, which emphasizes the concept of the “other” as the less civil person. This process, she said, creates binaries, which often result in misperceptions of a certain community.
“It’s easy for us to categorize people into binaries, but that’s not conducive to the sheer amount of differences in our society,” Ferroni said.
In addition the Leach’s speech, Ferroni suggested that students interested in creating a more civil environment by understanding other cultures attend this week’s Native American Culture Days. Events include a community dinner in King Lounge from 6 until 8:30 tonight, a game of Stickball on the quad from noon until 2 p.m. on Friday and a Powwow from 9 a.m. until midnight on Saturday in the ARC pavilion.
“[Civility] begins with small units,” Leach said. “You begin to understand others with the notions of the family, the school, the nation, the country and the world. Surprisingly basic values at the small unit quite frequently apply to the larger.”
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.