A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

New Civility Class Reminds Students to Mind their Ps and Qs

By Jason Jacks on October 13, 2010

From aggressive drivers and playground bullies to Tiger Woods and his well-documented dalliances, Mason adjunct professor Leslie Morton says enough is enough when it comes to people behaving badly.

“That sort of behavior has not only been tolerated but it has now become acceptable,” she says. “[Civility] has become a lost art.”

In a first for an accredited university in the United States, according to Morton, Mason is offering a course that delves into a problem becoming increasingly pervasive in a society more apt to celebrate a foul-mouthed reality star than a help-grandma-across-the-street Boy Scout: Bad manners.

Called Professionalism and Civility, the elective course, which Morton teaches through the School of Recreation, Health, and Tourism, launched this fall with 18 students learning everything from making eye contact when speaking with someone to proper table manners.

“Etiquette, manners, and civility are things that must be practiced,” Morton explains.

A native of Texas, Morton began her etiquette and manners teaching career in the Lone Star State before moving east.

As part of her course at Mason, she says students, who are not allowed to have their computers or cell phones on during class, often discuss poor behavior they recently encountered and ways to deal with it. In an assignment to teach tolerance, she recently had her students strike up conversations with people they thought “were different than them” or had frustrated them in the past.

Other elements of the course include proper office behavior and appearance, cultural sensitivity, and “netiquette,” or being respectful of others while online — a part of the course that seems more pertinent than ever considering the recent suicide of a Rutgers University freshman after he was outed by two fellow students online.

Morton, who attributes much of her own professionalism and civility to working in her family’s jewelry store at a young age, blames a lot of today’s poor manners on a fast-paced society, in which people are too rushed to mind their Ps and Qs.

“When you ask someone, “How are you doing?” she says, “you should really care how they are doing.”

Starting in fall 2011, the course will be required for all tourism and events management students.

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