Principles of Community point the way for shared campus values

Vice President for Diversity Mary Ontiveros spearheaded the effort to formulate Principles of Community for the Colorado State University campus. Photo by William Cotton, CSU Photography.

With nearly 30,000 students and more than 6,000 faculty and staff on four campuses in Fort Collins – and thousands more online students and Extension staff and alumni throughout the state and nation – Colorado State University is bigger than many towns in Colorado. To be effective, such a large and diverse population needs to feel engaged with the community, not just in pursuing our land-grant mission but also on an individual level of mutual respect.

The Principles of Community, endorsed by the President’s Cabinet in December, provides a framework for that engagement. The 200-word document sets out how we treat each other and how we expect to be treated every day.

“They’re really pretty common-sense ideas, values that we all for the most part already share,” explains CSU Vice President for Diversity Mary Ontiveros. “But when we started looking into it, we found that we had never clearly articulated them in one place.”

Colorado State University

Principles of Community

The Principles of Community support the Colorado State University mission and vision of access, research, teaching, service and engagement. A collaborative and vibrant community is a foundation for learning, critical inquiry, and discovery. Therefore, each member of the CSU community has a responsibility to uphold these principles when engaging with one another and acting on behalf of the University.

Inclusion: We create and nurture inclusive environments and welcome, value and affirm all members of our community, including their various identities, skills, ideas, talents and contributions.

Integrity: We are accountable for our actions and will act ethically and honestly in all our interactions.

Respect: We honor the inherent dignity of all people within an environment where we are committed to freedom of expression, critical discourse, and the advancement of knowledge.

Service: We are responsible, individually and collectively, to give of our time, talents, and resources to promote the well-being of each other and the development of our local, regional, and global communities.

Social Justice: We have the right to be treated and the responsibility to treat others with fairness and equity, the duty to challenge prejudice, and to uphold the laws, policies and procedures that promote justice in all respects.

While Ontiveros says there was no one triggering event that began the process about two years ago, community members had noticed several small but disturbing incidents that spoke to an attitude of casual disrespect among some individuals.

“Some of the things we saw and heard were, frankly, shocking, especially on a university campus in the 21st century,” Ontiveros adds. “We needed to have this conversation.”

So she convened about 50 volunteers, from deans and administrators to students, faculty and staff, to discuss what it means to be part of the CSU community and how we could treat each other better. Over many months of regular meetings, the group discussed and dissected concepts such as inclusion and integrity – and the actual words used to communicate those concepts.

Inspirational process

While that might sound like the worst task force assignment ever, everyone involved described it as inspirational.

“I had been involved with issues of inclusion and diversity at the University of Florida,” says Warner College of Natural Resources Dean John P. Hayes, who joined the group soon after he arrived at CSU. “Natural Resources as a field has historically attracted students from a small demographic and we are actively attempting to address this across a broad array of programs and partnerships with K-12, at the state and federal agencies and professional organizations, but diversity issues are not restricted to Natural Resources. The committee was extremely effective because we had a diverse cross section of campus engaged in these discussions in a heartfelt and open way, and it was a fantastic process.”

“I’m not a naturally patient person, and at first I felt like I needed a finished document to use right now,” says Shannon Archibeque-Engle, director of diversity for the College of Agricultural Sciences. “The process was lengthy but also enlightening and educational, and everyone was so engaged, it was worth it to work it through.”

She and Hayes and other members of the group credit Ontiveros for the outcome: “As Mary always says, if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.”

At the same time, the University was developing its policy against workplace bullying. Bob Schur, executive director of CSU’s Department of Policy, Risk & Environmental Programs who was also part of the working group that drafted the Principles of Community, explains the difference between the two.

“The bullying policy sets the floor for acceptable behavior; it is prescriptive and actionable, and you should expect there to be consequences,” he says. “The Principles of Community statement is not a policy, per se. It is aspirational, a statement of what we as a community would like to achieve.”

Once the full committee approved the working group’s document, Ontiveros and a team from the group took the Principles on the road, presenting to more than 800 individuals in 30 meetings on campus for their input and reaction.

“That was fascinating,” Ontiveros says. “After all the time we spent on every single word, we still learned so much about how other people interpret and feel about how we talk about important issues.”

The document was tweaked based on that input before it went to Cabinet, which made only minor edits before endorsing it at its last meeting of 2015.

Now what?

Ontiveros says the goal is to have the Principles of Community become as ingrained in life at CSU as other aspects of Ram Pride.

“It needs to be a living, breathing document, with the ideas in it part of how we conduct ourselves every day,” she says. “It can’t just go into a binder and sit on the shelf.”

Ideas for how to make that happen are still taking shape, but some suggestions have been to include the Principles in all job postings and as topics for Admissions essays, to let everyone know from the beginning what the CSU community stands for.

“When we began the process, we looked at other universities to see if they had similar policies, and they did,” Archibeque-Engle recalls. “This was in February 2014, remember, and one of the most impressive documents we found was from the University of Missouri. We asked them what they had done to implement the concepts on their campus, and the answer was essentially, ‘Nothing.’ We see how that turned out.”