Project Civility Stability team members include seniors Madison Vance (top right), Taylor Westfall (top left), Liam Oakes (bottom left) and Madelyn Nichols (bottom right).
A team of four public relations students in Seton Hall's College of Communication and the Arts is running a month-long campaign to lead a university-wide conversation on reversing the corrosion of civility in public discourse.
Seniors Liam Oakes, Madelyn Nichols, Taylor Westfall and Madison Vance are competing in the national Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) Bateman Case Study Competition. Under the direction of Instructor of Public Relations McKenna Schray, '13/M.A. '14/Ph.D. '19, for this extracurricular initiative, the team launched its campaign called Project Civility Stability (PCS) on February 8.
"Incivility is costing businesses a fortune, ruining relationships and stunting the growth of society," Westfall said. "As we learned more about the prevalence and negative impact of incivility, and the positive impacts of civil discourse, it was easy to get excited for this campaign. Civility helps us have hard conversations. It provides a framework when dealing with disagreements and finding compromises and solutions to the challenges we face."
To accomplish its goals, PCS implemented several strategies and tactics directed at Seton Hall undergraduate students because they are next generation of leaders in their respective fields and can benefit from an education in civil discourse, Oakes said.
The team used a social media campaign on Instagram (@civilitystabilty) and Twitter (@civility_shu) to engage the Seton Hall community with information on civil discourse and how to engage in it. PCS posted infographics and educational resources on Instagram through slide posts and reels, highlighting research conducted by the students in the early stages of the competition.
"There is a significant body of literature that confirms the suspicion that incivility is hurting us," Nichols said. "Through our research, we found suggestions to improve listening and communication skills, such as Active-Empathetic Listening which we featured on our Instagram story. We are trying to equip people with the resources they need to engage civilly and improve civil discourse."
PCS also held a workshop for student organization leaders titled "Combating Incivility in Your Student Organization" on March 2. With representatives from ten student organizations, the workshop featured interactive activities to practice skills that help promote civil discourse. The team shared a resource kit from the workshop after the event and encouraged the representatives to share their takeaways with their respective organizations.
"There is a real problem with incivility in the world today, and this problem is directly connected to our reluctance to accept differences of opinion and our inability to listen to each other," said Trevor Gorman, a senior who represented the Student Activities Board at the event. "When you are willing to listen to learn from someone, instead of listening to respond with your own ideas, it opens the door for that person to want to listen to your point of view as well. Speaking with someone—and not to them—will ultimately lead to a mutual understanding and is the one of the best ways to advance civility."
Currently, PCS is collecting virtual signatures through the Civility Begins With You pledge. Oakes said the idea behind the pledge is that just as it only takes one person to start an uncivil encounter, one person also has the power to actively promote civility and diffuse uncivil situations when they arise.
For each person who signs the pledge, PCS will donate $1 to the National Civility Foundation, up to $150. The pledge is open until March 8 which marks the end of the campaign.
The team is also offering an Instagram giveaway. Seton Hall students who follow the PCS Instagram page and comment their biggest takeaway from the campaign are entered to win one of three $50 Amazon gift cards. Entries will be accepted until March 7 at noon.
After the campaign ends, the students will evaluate their efforts and submit a summary of the campaign as the entry for the competition. The three finalist teams will be notified by PRSSA on April 15 and invited to present their campaigns to the judges in May.
"I am proud of our students for fostering a culture of civility among the university community," Schray said. "Their important work will be felt among student organizations and the community for years to come as they advanced the discussion of civility and demonstrated that aspiring and current public relations professionals can be change agents in improving public discourse."
The Bateman Case Study Competition is PRSSA's premier national case study competition where public relations students have an opportunity to apply one's classroom education and internship experiences to create and implement a full public relations campaign, according to PRSSA's website.