‘Civility and Kindness’: Mason, Schar School Welcomes New Students

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Schar School’s Jennifer Victor makes a speech from the podium.
Schar School Associate Professor Jennifer N. Victor: ‘Simple acts of every day kindness can bolster democracy…’ Photos by Buzz McClain/Schar School of Policy and Government

George Mason University President Gregory Washington and a host of Mason student, faculty, and staff representatives welcomed the largest incoming class in the university’s history—more than 4,000 of them—at two convocations held at EagleBank Arena on Friday, August 20, challenging the newest Patriots to push themselves academically, get involved on campus, and prepare to tackle the grand challenges of our time.

With the nation’s No. 1 pep band, the Green Machine, under the direction of Mason music professor Doc Nix adding a head-bobbing soundtrack to the ceremonies, tThe university welcomed new underclassman—including second-year students who were pandemically locked out of an in-person event last year—to the campus community with words of wisdom and encouragement.

In addition to remarks by Washington, Mason provost Mark Ginsberg, and others, the key-note speaker was Schar School of Policy and Government’s associate professor Jennifer N. Victor, whose message about civility in modern times was simple, succinct, and certainly impactful.

“The threats to U.S. democracy that we’ve seen in recent years are to some extent a symptom of a breakdown of the social contract that we implicitly agree to,” she told the audience. “That contract demands that we take care of one another, share public resources, create public resources for all to share, accept losses, and help pick one another up when we fall. But if it’s that contract that’s at risk, then there is one simple way to fortify it. Kindness!

“Simple acts of every day kindness can bolster democracy. The reason they can is because they strengthen the bonds of community between individuals, which improves each person’s personal sense of democracy,” Victor said.

She explained to the new students that her research in social networking has revealed that political rivals are more likely to cooperate when the connections between them are voluntary and sustained over time. Being kind helps to ensure that they are.

Victor said that even the smallest actions can help foster these connections. To demonstrate, she gave President Washington a Schar School hat as a gift, which he promptly donned.

Washington spoke to the students about the challenges the world is facing. It is an age of unprecedented change, he suggested, which also means unprecedented unknowns. It is an era where the climate lends its hand to natural disasters, and pandemics become global crises in a matter of months. It is an era where kindness can go a long way.

“The idea is that we got a little bit of time to prepare you to deal with [the world’s challenges],” he said. “And I contend to you that we are the right place to do this.”

Mason is the largest and most diverse public university in Virginia, and the freshman class bears that out, with more than 4,000 students, 56% of whom are non-white, both all-time highs. This is also the largest group of new students, counting undergraduate, graduate and law students, to ever enroll at Mason.

Mason President Washington wears a white Schar School hat.
Mason President Washington sports his new Schar School chapeau.