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SUNY Canton, Potsdam unite to promote civility

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CANTON — Bullying. Intolerance. Humiliation. Disrespect. Graffiti.

A group of SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam students, faculty and staff won’t stand for any of those.

At noon this Thursday, both campuses will come together for a sit-in for civility.

Annette L. Robbins, director of student conduct and community standards at SUNY Potsdam’s Barrington Student Union, said it is a chance for a contingent of students to set an example for others.

This is the first joint event by the two colleges, an outgrowth of their drive to share more services and administrative positions, said Courtney B. Bish, SUNY Canton’s Dean of Students.

“Annette Robbins helped initiate the civility initiative at SUNY Potsdam, and I reached out to her to say ‘is this something we can work on together?’” said Ms. Bish.

The coordinated event uses the shared services proposal, which has caused anxiety on both campuses, to create something positive, said Ms. Robbins.

“As we continued to speak, we both realized what a great opportunity to support the shared services by doing some joint programming,” she said.

Ms. Bish takes part in the for Character, Acts of Kindness, Respect, Environment and Spirituality, or CARES committee at SUNY Canton. “I think it is important that we focus on the good and try to teach students to act respectfully and with care towards one another,” she said. “I deal a lot with student conduct issues. It would be a better experience to be able to reward positive behavior.”

Both women acknowledged that universities should help students develop character as well as academic acumen.

The genesis of the civility sit-in on the SUNY Potsdam campus was in Be Ethical and Responsible at SUNY Potsdam, a group dedicated to justice, civility, equity and inclusion, said Ms. Robbins.

“We’ve done a lot of passive programming thus far,” she said. “We have large banners in the student union that speak to respect — things like holding the door open, not dropping trash. From there we wanted an active program and that is where the sit-in came from.”

Though Potsdam is thought of as a friendly, inclusive campus, the community has seen a trend of fights and increasing violence, she said.

“We are finding more and more incidents relating to physical violence,” said Ms. Robbins. “Students are choosing to solve their problems by hitting others. They are lashing out physically.”

At other institutions, administrations often respond with conflict-resolution training, however, Ms. Robbins wanted to get to the source of the problem.

“I feel this is all pretty new to us, this high level of aggression,” she said. “We’ve started with some proactive with civility, we’re soon going to have to be reactive with conflict resolution.”

SUNY Canton came to the same conclusion, said Ms. Bish.

“We’ve been lucky so far, we have not had an incident of physical violence yet this semester, but it has happened in the past,” she said. “This is a way of preventing that kind of behavior.”

Potsdam’s effort extends beyond campus, attempting to improve respect for the community surrounding campus.

“I would say a large percentage of incidents that occur with our students actually happen within the community,” she said. “We extend our student code of conduct into the village, the community outside the campus. If a student is found publically urinating, they are held accountable on campus.”

In the past, both campuses have also had issues with vandalism and trash, costing them thousands of dollars. Perhaps an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, said Ms. Bish.

“We want you to care for others and be respectful of other people and the campus,” she said.

Both sit ins will feature t-shirts designed by students protesting a form of incivility.

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