Aspirational Imperatives for Conversation in the Dickinson Community
1. When there is a problem, we want to talk about it—ideally face-to-face rather than through social media.
2. Conversation is 90 percent listening and 10 percent talk.
3. Conversations are conducted with civility and a respect for human difference.
4. There are a variety of equally valid ethical positions upon an issue, and thus claims of singular moral superiority are to be presented with humility and caution.
5. Conversations should include a thorough attempt to gather the facts of a situation before conclusions are reached—a tall order in the contemporary social media environment. For example, Kim Epting, in a recent commentary in Inside Higher Ed, writes, “In an age of Twitter, concision may be a valid goal in student writing. But clarity and accuracy are often emphasized too little.”
6. There is recognition that some facts, particularly those surrounding outcomes of academic and social-violation hearings, simply cannot be shared in the community because of federal privacy laws—laws that protect all community members. This situation is one of the most vexing in American higher education today. It is the source of considerable distrust, frustration, misinformation and rumor-mongering in college communities.
7. Our personality in social electronic media is to be the same as our personality reflected in our daily face-to-face interaction within our community.
8. We are committed through conversation and resulting action to the unending improvement of our community for all members—fairness for all prevails.
9. We recognize that improvement in our community and the wider world cannot be achieved by legislation alone—by rules and mere process. Sustained improvements emerge only when we are willing to face sources of negativity and offensiveness in ourselves and our community and, as a result, change human behaviors.
10. An understanding that transparency and trust through conversation is not to be judged by how much another person agrees with our position and does what we want, but whether a person is true to what she/he says, even if it is opposed to our position.
11. Just because we can legally say something, does not mean that we should. Maturity and restraint are community virtues to be employed in face-to-face conversation and in social media.
12. Rumor is to be rejected as a source of communication because of the destructive effects it has on a community. In a liberal-arts college, one is reminded of the vivid description of the goddess, Rumor, in Book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid.
Nimble as quicksilver among evils, Rumor
Thrives on motion, stronger for the running,
Lowly at first through fear, then rearing high,
She treads the land and hides her head in cloud…
Monstrous, deformed, titanic. Pinioned, with
An eye beneath for every body feather,
And, strange to say, as many tongues and buzzing
Mouths as eyes, as many pricked-up ears,
By night she flies between the earth and heaven
Shrieking through darkness, and she never turns
Her eye-lids down to sleep. By day she broods,
On the alert, on rooftops or on towers,
Bringing cities fear, harping on lies
And slander evenhandedly with truth.
In those days Rumor took an evil joy
At filling countrysides with whispers, whispers
Gossip of what was done, and never done…
(From a translation by Robert Fitzgerald)