The Fulton Montgomery Community College campus had a distinctly peaceful air to it Wednesday.
A few students passed a football in great spiraling arcs, laughing and jogging in the spring sun during their lunch break. Relaxed rhythms thumped out from a tribal drum circle near the clock tower. Then at noon, all gathered single-file to form the word “PEACE” in giant letters on the grass.
The 300-student word was part of Civility Week at the college. It was meant as a large-scale symbol of, well, peace, but also a commitment to general kindness and forming a more open, less judgmental campus.
“Get over here,” said student retention coordinator Jeanmarie Reinke. “I need more bodies. Don’t act like you don’t hear me.”
She directed a few passing students to a rather sparse section of the “P.”
“Where do we need more bodies?” she shouted to Amy Radik, a college spokeswoman perched with a camera on the roof of the main classroom building.
As she and a few other college staff worked, the word came together with surprising clarity. Bringing 300 students of different majors and schedules together in one place and getting them all to stand in a legible formation took single-minded effort, but each student had their own reasons for participating.
“Honestly, I have no idea what’s going on,” said graphic design major Joshua Young. “I was just playing football and they told me to come over here. I was like, sure, I’ll stand in the E.”
Though the “PEACE” effort was planned far in advance of Monday’s bombing in Boston, the tragedy was on many minds.
“I think people need to stop all the hatred,” said Diane Scharf, who stood with fellow sociology students on the crossbar of the “A.”
The class nodded in agreement as she said that standing in the letters of “PEACE” was a stand against tragedies like the one in Boston.
“It doesn’t hurt that professor vanBladel gave us five extra credit points to come out and stand here,” said Leatrice Hagen. “That and the cause.”
Psychology teacher John vanBladel is part of the campus civility committee started two years ago and helps organize the occasional civility-directed event.
As he handed out free bags and peace dove ornaments to dispersing students, he explained Civility Week: “It’s all based on an expanded from of the Golden Rule.”
Under his philosophy, the simple “do unto others” is broken down into 25 more specific rules like “be kind to animals” and “be inclusive.”
By following these simple interpersonal rules of communication, he said, students will better navigate office politics, form better relationships, hold more intellectual conversations and generally live happier, healthier lives.
Events like Wednesday’s “PEACE” assembly, which require students to work together and get them thinking about social interaction, help introduce those rules.
VanBladel couldn’t point out a change in campus dynamics since the committee started holding civility events two years ago, but said the philosophy works wonders in individual classrooms.
“In a sociology class a lot of ideas are thrown around,” he said. “It’s important not to get angry, but to really listen to those opinions in order to respond and learn.”
He said such an attitude in life would help form a more open and accepting society.
“People like those responsible for the Boston bombings have issues,” he said. “In a more open society, people are more likely to seek help for those issues.”