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Defining civility

What do you think of when you hear the term civility? Is it finding common ground? Being a good neighbor? Is it simply being nice? With a little guidance and a lot of research, Drake’s public relations capstone students are discovering the definition of civility is far from black and white.

This year, the students will be working on an exciting, hands-on initiative with the potential to make big changes in Iowa. In collaboration with a variety of community organizations including Character Counts in Iowa, the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, and the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, the class of 29 students will be working on a grassroots movement to raise awareness of the importance of civility. The theme of civility is both a key element of the Capital Crossroads vision, a five-year vision strategy for the greater Des Moines area, and a core value in Drake’s 2013–2017 Strategic Plan. After researching, preparing, and presenting their complete plans, the organizations will take the best of the students’ ideas and implement them in the community.

David Remund and Kelly Bruhn, both assistant professors of public relations, will lead the two-semester class. This year presents an exciting new challenge to the students: While capstone topics in past years have been much more defined, the broad objective of promoting civility leaves students plenty of room for interpretation and creativity.

Read more on civility in this fall’s Blue Magazine.

You can also check out the websites of the capstone’s community partners:
Character Counts in Iowa
Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines
Interfaith Alliance of Iowa

“This year is even more complex than others because we are discovering that everyone has a different definition of civility,” Bruhn says. “We are proud of our capstone and know we are producing good students, but we want to keep pushing them. The experience they will gain researching, consulting, and making professional recommendations will be so helpful in preparing them for their future careers.”

In the fall, the students will work in teams to perform hands-on research using focus groups, in-depth interviews, ethnographic methods, and more. Drake’s PR capstone course is one of a few undergraduate PR classes in the nation to require this much primary research. Remund, who also teaches graduate seminars and workshops within the Master of Communication Leadership program at Drake, considers this research-intensive semester to be graduate-level work.

Lindsey Phelps, a senior student in the capstone, sees these challenges not as barriers but as opportunities to explore the work she may be doing in a future career.

“The Drake University public relations degree offers you a lot of work for your portfolio, but this client is definitely the icing on the cake,” Phelps says. “I am really excited about this account simply because the repercussions are higher along with the potential reward, especially in the Des Moines community. I am grateful for the experience it will provide me and the skills I can utilize in my profession later.”

Character Counts in Iowa, a nonprofit organization that promotes civility and is housed at Drake, is one of the organizations with which the students will collaborate. Though the capstone project is only in its beginning stages, Scott Raecker, executive director of Character Counts in Iowa, already has confidence in what the group will produce.

“My greatest challenge for the students is to find their passion for the greater good, not just a good grade,” Raecker says. “After only one meeting with them I got the sense that even though they are busy with a thousand other things in their lives, they’re really dedicated to pouring their energy and enthusiasm into doing good work for us.”

Raecker is also excited to utilize the younger perspective this group has to offer. As technology continues to change, the ways people can express civil—or uncivil—behavior has increased. Many face-to-face confrontations have been replaced with online criticisms or text message attacks, something he knows this generation is more familiar with.

“This youthful generation brings a unique, welcomed perspective to the table,” Raecker says. “With different cultural experiences and contexts of technology, they will be able to identify different means in which we can address civility.”

The students will present their final plans in the spring and then will work with the client to determine which aspect of each plan should be combined to form the most effective campaign. With professors, students, administrators, and community partners pouring effort into this movement, the professors are confident this initiative has the potential to powerfully influence the Iowa community.

-By Maria Opatz, public relations and advertising double major, class of 2014