GRAY AREA: Courteous conduct in classroom conducive for learning



Natalie Gray

Looking at a college syllabus today, one would find a section on classroom conduct telling students to refrain from doing things like texting, Facebook or answering calls. Seems fairly reasonable, but these aren’t the only discourteous acts students, and even professors, do during a lecture.

A recent incident in a Sacramento State classroom discussion lead to name-calling, yelling and an almost physical altercation, all because two students disagreed on a topic and were not adult enough to handle the situation with tact.

During a War, Peace and Mass Media class, a student voiced his opinion while another student commented his tone was offensive and he shouldn’t be raising his voice. Both students were unwilling to back down and respectfully accept the others’ opinion.

This issue escalating to the point of University Police being called shows some college students do not feel obligated to be respectful of others in a debate. This attitude gives the impression one person’s opinion is more valid than the other.

“It’s incumbent on everyone to be respectful of others while they are talking, but also to be accepting of different viewpoints,” said associate journalism professor Mark Ludwig.

College-level students have no excuse to act like children in class. It’s absurd adults can’t come to a discussion class and have a respectful debate amongst each other. When the name-calling starts, it’s game over.

“A college classroom is supposed to be a respectful place where we can all share opinions and ideas, even if they are opposing,” said junior government-journalism major Amy Warshauer.

The very nature of many class subjects can evoke emotional responses, discussions and arguments, which could offend students and professors. Subjects like religion, politics, war and sexuality are brought up frequently in college, but shouldn’t be avoided because it causes controversy.

It is the controversy making it important to debate about these topics because students are encouraged to look outside their views and argue for the opposite side. Students are challenged to defend their views with facts and logic, but if a student isn’t willing to learn opposing viewpoints, college is not meant for them.

“Be ready to support your argument with thought-out reasoning versus derogatory comments,” said philosophy professor David Denman. “We’re all adults, just be polite.”

Most students behave properly when professors define what is expected from everyone, including the professor, at the beginning of the semester.

“Freedom of speech and pornography are the most heated topics of opinions from what I’ve noticed,” Ludwig said. “Name-calling and sarcasm, though, is juvenile and disrespectful. Control your tempers, even if the opinion is strong.”

College should be a place to freely exchange ideas and concepts, allowing for debate and disagreement. Classroom discourse, however, should still reflect principles of respect and civility. Acting disruptively interferes with class and is obnoxious to other students.

At this point in education, it isn’t the professor’s responsibility to reprimand students or give several warnings for rude behavior. Students not in class to learn should leave.

Most professors put it in their syllabi, they will either deduct points or ask the student to leave the class for distracting behavior. Communication studies professor Robert Humphrey even deducts points for leaving to go to the bathroom.

Often, students find it useful to raise their voice in a classroom argument. This is utterly pointless. Yelling does not make the point in question stronger and is an abrasive and primitive tactic of discussion. Being intolerable discredits your argument and doesn’t allow others to participate in the discussion. College students know this and should act accordingly.

“The situation in that class put me and every other student in an awkward position,” Warshauer said. “When people violate that safety (in class), I think myself and other students feel nervous to intervene or share any opinions.”

 All professors should make it a priority to establish expected behavior for the semester, but students should already come to class prepared to be civil and polite. Students are paying a lot for their education, they deserve to have their opinions heard without fear of being attacked by another student.


Natalie Gray can be reached at [email protected]