The Florida case involving the 2012 fatal shooting of an unarmed African American youth and the gunman’s acquittal in July proved a social tinder box for racial issues in America.
Diversity leaders on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus have organized a series of public meetings, four dialogue sessions and two town hall meetings built around the high-profile case.
The leaders say the very strands of discord sparked by the Martin case make it a great learning tool. Their hopes are the six meetings will encourage people, particularly students, to engage in civil discourse when faced with hot-button issues.
“It is easy to engage civilly on conversations over matters for which we agree,” said Daniel Griffith, director of the IUPUI Intergroup Dialogue Group, one of the series co-sponsors. “The need for civil discourse is especially important for conversations over matters for which there is significant disagreement and strong emotion. Without civil discourse, where conversation becomes strident and negative, the opportunity for learning and the chance for increasing understanding and finding common ground will be lost.”
The public meetings, titled “A Dialogue Series on Race, Politics and the Pursuit of Justice: America After Trayvon Martin,” kick off with a town hall meeting from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24, in the auditorium of Hine Hall, formerly the University Place Conference Center, 850 W. Michigan St.
According to Wayne Hilson, the interim director of the IUPUI Multicultural Success Center and director of Multicultural Academic Relations, the series is a prime example of the spirit of the IUPUI 2013-15 Common Theme, “Find Your Voice and Hear My Voice.”
“People seem to have increasing difficulty speaking to one another about serious matters in a civilized manner,” Hilson said. “We think it’s vital that our young people learn how to engage in productive, positive discourse, even on issues that can be divisive or uncomfortable.”
Hilson and the other organizers are hopeful that participants from various ethnic and racial backgrounds will attend and not just those who might empathize more with Martin because of their own racial or ethnic backgrounds.
“This is for everyone,” Hilson said. “Any true dialogue begins with a willingness to come and learn some things. These meetings will be a safe place to share one’s opinion regardless of what side of the fence you are on.”
The IUPUI Multicultural Success Center, the IUPUI Intergroup Dialogue Group and various academic units are co-sponsors of the series.
Following are the dates, times, locations and topics of the sessions:
- Oct. 31, Dialogue Session 1: “Legal Aspects + Implications of the Trayvon Martin Case,” featuring IU McKinney School of Law faculty and legal experts from the greater Indianapolis community, 6 to 8 p.m., Room 132, Hine Hall
- Nov. 7, Dialogue Session 2: “The Impact of Social Injustice: The History and Impact of Profiling,” featuring faculty from the Department of Africana Studies in the School of Liberal Arts, 6 to 8 p.m., Room 132, Hine Hall.
- Nov. 12, Dialogue Session 3: “Being Stopped by the Police or Others: Managing Confrontation, Avoiding Conflict,” featuring IU Police Department officers and representatives from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, 6 to 8 p.m., Presidents Room, The Tower, formerly the University Place Hotel.
- Nov. 21, Dialogue Session 4: “Cultivating Positive Change on Campus and in the Classroom,” featuring faculty from the Department of Psychology in the Purdue School of Science and the IU School of Education, 6 to 8 p.m., Room 132, Hine Hall.
- Dec. 5, Town Hall Meeting: Closing session, 6 to 9 p.m., Hine Hall Auditorium.