Wo/men's Conference Speaker Says Civility Is Possible -- Even in Politics

Moraga mayor Karen MendoncaMoraga Mayor's Talk Highlights Conference on the "Crossroads of Social Change"

The words politics and civility seldom go together these days, but Karen Mendonca, the mayor of Moraga, doesn't see them as contradictions.

"The future depends on us becoming the masters of civility leadership," she told the audience at last weekend's second annual Wo/Men's Conference at Saint Mary's College. Mendonca was the keynote speaker at the two-day conference, titled the "Crossroads of Social Change."

"It's a mean world out there now," Mendonca said during her speech Saturday at the Soda Center. "The challenge is to create trusting and respectful communities."

Mendonca was elected to the Moraga Town Council in 2008 and appointed to the mayor's post in December. Before turning to politics, she had spent 25 years in academia as an administrator. As a regent and departmental Fellow to the University of California at Berkeley, she carried out a leadership study of women presidents in higher education.

Civility in Academia

She became interested in the topic of civility when she and a colleague spent a fellowship year studying the president of CSU-Long Beach, who she says transformed the university and boosted its standing by adopting civility as a guiding principle for the community.

Since turning to politics, Mendonca has had plenty of opportunities to put her research into practice. When she ran for Town Council, she had to deal with a mudslinging campaign dubbed "Moragagate." And in her first month as mayor, she navigated a vigorous debate over a proposed housing development.

Practicing civility, whether in politics, academia or personal life, is a choice, Mendonca said, not an inclination. "It's not a practice for angels. You have to choose civility," she said. "And if you do, you're doing it for the greater good."

To provide some guidance, she passed along some tips culled from "Eight Rules for a Civil Life" by P.M. Forni and "Return to Civility" by John Sweeney:

Believe that every action you take affects everyone else.

Ask others for their opinions, and then listen.

Argue a point, not a person.

Slow down and be present.

Listen to the voice of empathy.

Respect and validate others.

Speakers Focus on Change

Much of the Wo/men's Conference focused on facilitating change and achieving the greater good. The conference began with a panel Friday on "Wo/men of Color Leading Change." The panelists included author Li Miao Lovett; Jamila Buckner, director of recruitment and human resource projects; Joan Iva Fawcett, director of the Intercultural Center; and Ete Anderson, assistant dean of Student Life.

It was followed by the "Be the Change Video Debut" in the Women's Resource Center, at which three productions were screened: "A Life of Service," by D.J. Bowen; "The Skirts," a video about the first women at Saint Mary's, by Rachel Brewer; and "Spread Awareness, Spread Kindness," by Hannah McLeod and Nicole Eason.

On Saturday, after the keynote address, there were two morning sessions: "The Personal is Political: Behind the Scenes of Social Justice," facilitated by Women's Resource Center Director Sharon Sobotta, and "Revolutionizing Health as a Social Justice Issue," presented by Professor Aaron Sachs; Gillian Cutshaw, SMC's sexual assault awareness coordinator; and students Ashton Coelho and Jessica Morello.

In the afternoon, during a panel on "Women Leading Change," Saint Mary's students Molly Bloom, Cassie Chism, Rachel Brewer, Michael Olague and Selam Kidane presented their oral history projects, conducted during Professor Monica Fitzgerald's January Term class, in which they interviewed some of the first women to attend Saint Mary's in the early 1970s. Maura Wolf of the Leadership Studies Department facilitated another panel on "The Art & Practice of 21st Century Leadership." The day ended with a session on "Promoting Across-Faith Understanding" and an experiential workshop called "Expressions of Change" that included painting, poetry, spoken word and beat box performances.

The conference was presented by the Women's Resource Center, CILSA, Academic Advising, the Leadership Center, Stand!, Alumni Relations, Community Violence Solutions and the Town of Moraga.

For a full list of all the events and participant bios, see the Women's Resource Center listing.

Teresa Castle

College Communications