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The Challenge of Civility

By Nifer Honeycutt

When Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman took the podium at President Biden’s Inauguration on January 20th, the country needed something to unify behind. Only days earlier, armed protestors had stormed the United States Capitol as the legislature finalized the electoral vote count. For hours, many of us were glued to our TVs or computer screens, finding it difficult to focus on much of anything else. The terrifying prospect of a coup was front and center of many people’s minds.

Of course, political vitriol had flowed on both sides of the aisle for months, heightened by a summer of police brutality cases and the resulting calls for justice and acknowledgement of what many see as a two-tiered justice system—one white and one black. Gorman’s poem was an acknowledgment of the moment and the tense environment we’ve all found ourselves in these past months.

“We've braved the belly of the beast We've learned that quiet isn't always peace And the norms and notions of what just is Isn’t always just-ice”

With these words, Gorman not only gave a voice to what so many of us had been feeling for so long, she also gave us a window into a modern concept of what civility truly is.

The assignment for this year’s PRSSA Bateman PR competition is “Civility in Public Discourse.” Teams were tasked with creating a program that would not only encourage better civility in discourse but position the PR profession as a key player in that work. DePaul’s team “The Awkward Team” initially met the challenge of defining “civility.” Is civility quietly acquiescing to people we disagree with to “keep the peace?” Or is there a new civility that can encourage getting emotional, drawing a line in the sand on issues we’re passionate about, and fighting for something that is right rather than merely popular?

Amanda Gorman’s words proved that this issue is top-of-mind culturally, and one that informed all of our campaign efforts. As a result, the team created a program centered around encouraging the kind of conversations many people avoid out of “politeness”: politics, religion, and social issues like systemic racism. The difference? Our aim is to arm participants with some guidelines for civility, with the hope that we can learn from each other’s perspectives rather than merely getting angry and walking away (or, even worse, staying quiet for fear of saying the wrong thing).

We have two major digital events scheduled to support this goal:

On February 16th, we present “Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable,” 2-4pm via Zoom. We will welcome members of The Civility Project (Nolan Finley and Stephen Henderson), as well as DePaul professor of communications Brett Taylor, to engage in casual conversation about how they approach challenging topics. Stop by any time, ask questions, and take the Civility Pledge! Join us Via Zoom!

On February 25th, 6-7:30pm via Zoom, we present “Let’s Get Uncomfortable.” We will welcome The Dialogue Project’s Bob Feldman to deliver a keynote address about his work and some tried and true ways of encouraging civil discourse. Then, we’ll put what we’ve learned into action, splitting into a series of three 2-person break out rooms (two persons in each) with discussion prompts for challenging topics. Stop by, meet some new friends, and learn about different perspectives. Join us via Zoom!


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