Skip to main content

Civility Guidelines

Northwestern Linguistics Civility Guidelines

Version 1.1, December 20, 2018

Note: The Linguistic Society of America Civility Policy played a key role in shaping this document; some language in this text has been adapted from that policy. The definition of civility used here comes from a post on Feminist Philosophers by Mary Margaret McCabe.

Comments on the policy are more than welcome; please reach out to Matt Goldrick and/or Annette D'Onofrio.

Expand all

What is civility? Why is it important?

Civility refers to the content and style with which verbal, written, and other types of communication occur in professional interactions or settings. In a civil context, all members of the community are heard, valued, taken seriously, treated with dignity and respect, and treated without prejudice. Civility is a necessary precondition for academic interchange that is free and safe for all participants. Importantly, civility, especially in an academic context, encompasses vigorous, reasoned disagreement and critique of ideas.

What is the goal of these guidelines?

The Northwestern Linguistics Department is committed to civility; we want to foster a safe and welcoming environment where all members of our community are able to fully and freely participate in all department activities. Part of this commitment means protecting department members from instances of incivility in or related to these activities. These guidelines are intended to outline behaviors that we as a community agree are and are not acceptable in serving this commitment, and to outline mechanisms for helping community members address instances of incivility.

How do these guidelines interact with Northwestern policies?

Northwestern has explicit processes and procedures that deal with behavior that is unacceptable in the university community. Links to information about these policies are provided in the final section of these guidelines (Resources Outside the Department), addressing issues including sexual misconduct, discrimination and harassment, and violence. With respect to civility specifically, the university-wide policy identifies civility as an issue that is important for and applicable to the entire university community. The guidelines for the university-wide policy state that, with the exception of those cases where physical harm has or is reasonably expected to occur (see links at the end of this document), cases of incivility are handled by supervisors, working with the individuals involved to address the situation. The current document is intended to help members of the Northwestern Linguistics community navigate such situations.

Who do these guidelines apply to?

Our intellectual community includes many people: graduate students pursuing a degree in our department; undergraduate majors and minors; students in our courses; undergraduate research assistants working with graduate students, staff, and faculty; teaching-line, tenure-line, affiliated, and adjunct faculty; administrative and technical staff including postdoctoral researchers; visiting scholars; members of qualifying paper and dissertation committees; any participants in research group meetings; and other individuals that have significant interactions with our department.

When do these guidelines apply?

As guidelines for civility within our intellectual community, they apply in many professional contexts, with and without social components. These include on and off-campus events held by the department, linguistics courses, and work-related meetings among department members (including research group meetings). They also extend to many professional activities that department members host and participate in, as well as events that are otherwise sponsored by the department (e.g., academic conferences and workshops, both on and off campus). Of course, there is a considerable overlap between purely professional and purely personal events (e.g., an off-campus party where most guests are affiliated with the department). Nevertheless, all community members should be mindful of the potential for uncivil behaviors involving members of our department in any context to impact the work or academic life of members of our department.

What is civil behavior?

Civil behavior is verbal, written, and other communication that fosters, in both style and content, the conditions for free academic exchange: environments in which individuals are heard, valued, taken seriously, and treated with respect. The behaviors covered by Northwestern policies (sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, discrimination, violence) clearly work against free academic exchange. Additionally, behaviors more subtle than these more extreme cases can have the effect of undermining the goal of an open, respectful, and non-prejudicial academic environment. Importantly, these can occur even in the absence of malicious intent.

Although this type of behavior may, at times, be more difficult to identify than behaviors covered by the Northwestern policies listed above, we suggest that individuals of the Department reflect upon the questions below in assessing their own civility and the civility of others. Note that answering these questions can be challenging, and often relies on subjective assessments. For this reason, discussions with your colleagues are an important part of addressing civility issues.

  • Does the tone, style, and content of the communication encourage participation of all of your colleagues?
  • Is the communication free of presuppositions that your colleague's competence, knowledge, or merit derive from their social background, identity, or group membership?
  • Does the communication limit free contributions by making other individuals feel unheard or unwelcome?

To be clear, these questions are intended to spark conversations rather than cut off academic exchanges.

I’m experiencing or witnessing uncivil behavior; who should I talk to?

If you feel that people are working against our goal of fostering a civil department culture, either because you have directly experienced it or directly witnessed it, and if you feel that you are unable to resolve the matter through discussions of your own, you should speak with a faculty member (or, in the case of staff, the department administrator). Depending on your role in the Linguistics department, we suggest you consult faculty in the order given below. However, you should free to reach out to the person you are most comfortable speaking with about the issue.

Undergraduate students:

  1. Course instructor and/or faculty advisor
  2. Director of Undergraduate Studies
  3. Department Chair

Graduate students:

  1. Faculty advisor and/or course instructor:
  2. Director of Graduate Studies
  3. Department Chair

Research staff (including postdoctoral fellows and visitors):

  1. Faculty advisor / principal faculty contact
  2. Department Chair

Other staff:

  1. Department Administrator
  2. Department Chair

Faculty (including adjunct, teaching-track, and tenure-line):

  1. Department Chair
Faculty and the department administrator will prioritize confidentiality as far as possible or requested. However, you should know that faculty and administrators are obligated to notify university officials if they receive reports of misconduct involving minors, or reports of sexual misconduct, or information about imminent threats to oneself or others.

What will happen after I speak to someone?

If uncivil behavior falls under a Northwestern policy, faculty and university officials will help individuals engage with and navigate the extra-departmental processes (the Office of Equity is ready to assist in this process). For other cases, the goal will be to help restore a safe and welcoming environment for all members of the community. This begins by affirming respect for you as a member of the community, including respecting desired privacy to the greatest possible extent. We will work with you and other members of the community to help restore a safe and welcoming environment (resources for help in this process include the Office of Equity and Campus Inclusion & Community. This may include: making suggestions for resolving the issue through direct communication between you and the person that you believe has exhibited uncivil behavior; discussing the issue with one or both parties; conducting broader discussions with various individuals or groups within the department; initiating additional levels of consultation within the department; and holding discussions with college or university administrators outside the department.

If I speak to someone, will I be protected from retaliation?

Retaliation for reporting or discussing uncivil behavior is inherently uncivil, compounding the negative impacts of the initial issue. Northwestern’s Policy on Non-Retaliation provides broad protection for reporting activities that are “wrongful or unlawful.” This explicitly includes reporting of discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, or sexual misconduct (as protected by federal law) as well as reporting of wrongful activities to a immediate supervisor or department chair. The faculty will work proactively to minimize possibilities for retaliation by maintaining confidentiality to the greatest extent possible.

Who should I go to with questions about these guidelines?

The faculty are happy to discuss these issues, even if you are unsure if you’ve experienced uncivil behavior. We encourage over- rather than under-reporting of issues related to civility. We believe that by quickly identifying and confronting these issues we can hopefully prevent more serious issues from developing.

Resources Outside the Department

Violence or imminent threats of violence
Counseling and Support Resources
Discrimination and Harassment, including Sexual Misconduct

Including sexual assault ( sexual penetration without consent, sexual contact without consent,
statutory rape), sexual exploitation, stalking, dating/domestic violence, sexual harassment

Northwestern’s General Civility Policies