CLASS… DISMISSED?

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By Chi Nguyen

An independent evaluation of expected, acceptable and stomach-turning behaviour on campus has yielded favourable results, according to an expert etiquette assessment led by the Eyeopener‘s intrepid investigative team.

The Eyeopener recruited teacher of social graces and president of Business of Manners Adeota Czink for an on-campus report on manners. “Your social etiquette can make or break your success once you’ve left university and enter the job market,” Czink stressed.

Over the course of one afternoon, she helped assign grades based on how students carried themselves and interacted with one another. Driving down Gould Street, Czink noted the attire of students rushing to make it on time for class. When asked whether appropriate student dress was a priority for her, second-year Business Management student Mona Khizar said “how we are dressed now, how we act now, doesn’t matter for things in the future.”

Having spoken to big corporations, Czink countered that “once students leave university, 10 years down the road, their classmates may be their boss or employees, and may remember how they dressed and acted like in school.” Most people walking out in the cold by the Quad met Czink’s standards and criteria for university students, with the exception of one sleepy-eyed student wearing pyjama bottoms.

“Dressing sloppily can never be excused. As the leaders of tomorrow, (students) should start practicing their leadership now, and that would include dressing appropriately.” Khizar said that ignores the student’s plight. “Some have really early morning classes or exams, at 8 in the morning, so the dress code shouldn’t matter,” she said. “We are all students, and we come here to learn anyway, so people shouldn’t care how others are dressed.”

From the several hundred students assessed throughout Gould, Victoria, and Church streets, as well as Tim Hortons and Jorgenson Hall, Czink only deemed four to be dressed inappropriately. Students should not forget to apply basic table manners to cafeteria eating, said Linda Allan of Image International, a business etiquette school. “It doesn’t matter if you are at a picnic, dining with the Queen, or eating in the cafeteria — good manners are good manners.”

That means good posture and elbow placement, not speaking with food in your mouth, and spooning soup away from you to avoid spilling it on yourself. Also learn how to handle a knife and fork properly, cutting your food as you eat instead of all at once. Saying “please” and “thank you” is also important, as is cleaning up after oneself, not taking up too much space on the table, and pushing chairs in once the meal is over.

Based on Allan’s principles, the Eyeopener conducted an unscientific study of 50 people and found that 28 students chewed while speaking, while 12 chewed with their mouths open. One person answered his cellphone while eating and speaking to a student beside him and 18 students ate with their elbows on the table. The investigation also found that 15 people ate with their feet on chairs and 19 people occupied more than double the appropriate space at the table. Only four people pushed in their chairs once they left, while the rest left them blocking the way. Only 13 students cleaned up after themselves.

Czink said table manners are the “number one giveaway of a person’s upbringing and can make a lasting impression on others.” That is the reason why your girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s parents will invite you over for dinner, not coffee, so that they can analyze you, or why employers may invite you for lunch before deciding on your promotion. “They are not in need of company, but are assessing how you can handle yourself outside your comfort zone.” Having the common sense to switch off a cellphone is vital for a student, according to Czink. “Cellphone etiquette is totally out of whack,” she said.

“You are already dedicating time to study, if you waste the time on something unconstructive (such as checking e-mail or chatting on the phone), you just end up having to spend more time on the material later on,” Czink said.

If waiting for an important call, cell phones, blackberries and palm pilots can be set to silent or vibrating mode. “A classroom is a place to study and learn,” agreed philosophy professor James Cunningham, upon hearing Czink’s comments on cellphone courtesy.

“Cellphones going off in class are very distracting, and make it very difficult to concentrate.” Hundreds of students walked with their cellphones pressed to their ears, but none were observed to have actually interrupted a conversation to answer a call. At Starbucks in Jorgenson, Czink frowned at the fact that students enjoyed eating while chatting on their phones. “When you are eating and talking into a phone, you are basically chewing into that person’s ear. That is very rude and not considerate at all,” she said.

“If you are eating lunch, ask the person if they would mind if you are eating, and if you were asking me that question, I’d say yes, because I don’t want to hear that.”

While the Eyeopener detected cellphones in study areas and the library, the noise level was kept reasonably low, which satisfied Czink–to an extent. Czink’s evaluation handed Ryerson a C for its smoking culture, particularly due to cigarette butts strewn all over the sidewalks, in spite of nearby garbage bins. Students were seen walking or rushing to class, holding a cigarette between their fingers, and trying to smoke and run at the same time.

One kissing couple was spotted with each person holding a cigarette.

Having to remind university students to say “please” and “thank you” may seem unnecessary, but Czink says that politeness can never be overrated. Dr. Kate Eichorn, English professor at Ryerson, adds that “students and staff are very busy, and although everyone would love to live in a considerate world, that is not the reality, so I don’t expect them to open the door for me, and I’m not going to be offended when they don’t. After all,” she said, “I’m not known for my great social graces either.”

Over the course of 90 minutes in Tim Hortons, most Ryerson students said “thank you” and “please” and rarely rolled their eyes when their orders were wrong. Czink was pleasantly surprised; Ryerson was “quite polite.” But Cunningham said he’s had “incredibly impolite students,” some of whom have been “even abusive. “A couple of them have used profane language towards me, or shown me profane things. There are other times when students are inconsiderate as well, but they may not realize that. Getting up in the middle of class, and leaving and then returning later on, is very rude and distracting, but they may not register that as being rude.”

He does stress that those cases are in the minority, and that many more students are very polite and nice. The Eyeopener‘s analysis earned Ryerson a report card average of B-. Although the mark won’t win Ryerson any recognition, there won’t be any shameful shakes of the head either.

As tomorrow’s leaders, students will need to take over the world — and do it gracefully.

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