Photo by Jim Massara
Clayton State associate dean of students Jeff Jacobs discusses the the finer points of decency with freshmen as part of one of the university’s Civility Workshops.
MORROW — New freshmen at Clayton State University this year get three things when they step through the front gates: a class schedule, an orientation — and a book on civility.
It’s part of the school’s push to retain its freshmen and keep them moving forward — politely.
The book, “Choosing Civility” by P.M. Forni, is required reading for Clayton State’s University Foundations class, which itself is mandatory for the roughly 450 new freshmen.
“I think they’re thinking about things they haven’t really thought about,” said Mark Daddona, Clayton State’s associate vice president for enrollment management and one of the lecturers for the Civility Talks workshops. “New college students just don’t have the background to know how to interact and behave in college.”
Societal changes — including the proliferation of electronic changes that limit direct human interaction and stunt normal etiquette — may be part of the reason.
“Our students are so connected with technology it requres some training and discussion as to when to put it away,” Daddona said. “If someone’s phone keeps going off in class, it’s about respect and civility with one another.”
Students must attend one of four civility workshops given throughout the first semester, according to Erica Jackson, senior advisor in Clayton State’s new First-Year Advising & Retention Center. The sessions cover topics like general classroom etiquette, the student code of conduct, plagiarism and safety.
“We just wanted to promote something different, to alter their behavior in different areas,” Jackson said. “It’s been fun.”
It’s been educational, too — and not just for the new freshmen.
“Actually, we have encouraged faculty and staff to read [the “Civility” book] as well,” Jackson said. “It’s something for us all to take in.”
The goal is to keep students in school, and organizations that rate schools take note. Clayton State’s retention rate jumped 4 percent between 2010 and 2011, Daddona said, and that was a factor in the university’s improved ranking in U.S. News & World Report’s latest school directory.
“We’re wrapping our arms around our first-year students, and it’s going to be really hard for them to hide from us,” Daddona said.