2016 Symposium on Civil Discourse will focus on April 4, 1968

  • March 22, 2016


INDIANAPOLIS -- The IUPUI Symposium on Civil Discourse seeks to present models for civilly engaging in challenging conversations about issues and events impacting the campus, nation and world.

This year's symposium focuses on a watershed moment in local history: Robert Kennedy's speech on April 4, 1968, at an Indianapolis park, during which many of those in the crowd first learned of Martin Luther King Jr.'s death. Over the years, some citizens have credited that speech with having spared Indianapolis from the violent social unrest that took place in many other cities following King's assassination.

The 2016 IIUPUI Symposium on Civil Discourse takes place from 1:30 to 4:15 p.m. on Monday, April 4, 48 years after the events, at the IUPUI Campus Center, 420 University Blvd.

Playwright and Indiana Repertory Theatre playwright-in-residence James Still will open the session with the keynote address, titled "The Art of Active Listening," from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m. in the IUPUI Campus Center Theater.

"For me, the secret to active listening is a willingness NOT to be the expert," Still said. "Once we give up that power of being the expert and instead become students of the moment, there are countless ways that we might experience a kind of internal shift that makes way for curiosity, compassion, empathy and surprise. If you think about how this might apply to civil discourse, you can also begin to imagine how active listening might deepen our understanding for people and ideas that seem different from us."

Still's play about one family affected by Robert Kennedy's speech and King's assassination, "April 4, 1968: Before We Forgot How to Dream," premiered at the IRT last fall. Still will share how the play has its roots in "listening sessions" he held with local senior citizens 20 years ago.

"One of the stories shared with me again and again was about the evening of April 4, 1968, when Bobby Kennedy gave a speech at a neighborhood park, announcing to the mostly African-American crowd that Dr. King had been murdered in Memphis, Tennessee," Still said. "I knew from the ways people talked about that memory that it was an event that had shaped lives, that had lingered and made meaning out of tragedy."

In 2011, Still conducted talks with more than 50 people who had heard Kennedy's 1968 speech or had been touched by that night.

"Many of the people I talked with had been teenagers in 1968, high school and college students, and I was deeply affected by their passion and heartfelt desire to be part of a change they wanted to see in the country," the playwright said. "The play I would eventually write was inspired by these many conversations. It wasn’t just the narrative content of the interviews that inspired me; I was equally inspired by the emotions I witnessed and felt while listening to people share their experiences from April 4, 1968."

In addition to Still's talk, the symposium includes three concurrent sessions featuring campus models of civil discourse.

Symposium attendees are also invited to hear Still as guest speaker at the "Making the Dream a Reality: April 4th Annual Festival" at 5 p.m. at the memorial site for Kennedy's speech, the Landmark for Peace Memorial, located at 17th Street and Central Avenue.

The IUPUI Symposium on Civil Discourse is a collaboration of various campus units.

Visitor parking is available for a fee in the Vermont Garage, 1004 W. Vermont St.  

For additional information, call 317-278-4230.

Landmark for Peace Memorial

Landmark for Peace Memorial

Print Quality Photo

Diane Brown