Vanderbilt University holds Impact Symposium

Brittany Packnett

Brittany Packnett

Vanderbilt University’s Impact Symposium, one of the oldest university lecture series of its caliber in the nation, this year features best-selling author Azar Nafisi, Black Lives Matter activist and Teach For America Executive Director Brittany Packnett, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Spike Lee and former Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner. All will deliver public lectures at Vanderbilt March 21-23.

The theme of this year’s symposium is ‘The Struggle for Success: Is America Dreaming?’ Nafisi and Packnett will speak on Monday, March 21, in Vanderbilt’s Student Life Center ballroom; Lee on Tuesday, March 22, in Langford Auditorium; and Boehner on Wednesday, March 23, in Langford Auditorium. The Monday and Tuesday lectures begin at 7 pm. Wednesday’s lecture begins at 6:30 pm.

Tickets for each night’s lecture are free for Vanderbilt students with a university ID (limit one per student), free for Vanderbilt faculty and staff with a university ID (limit two per person), $10 for the general public and $5 for non-Vanderbilt students with university ID. Tickets are available at the Sarratt Student Center box office. General public tickets may be purchased at Ticketmaster online.

Nafisi is best known as the author of the national bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. The book is a portrait of the Islamic revolution in Iran and how it affected one university professor and her students. Nafisi is currently the executive director of cultural conversations at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., where she is a professor of aesthetics, culture and literature, and teaches courses on the relation between culture and politics. She has lectured and written extensively in English and Persian on the political implications of literature and culture, as well as the human rights of the Iranian women and girls and the important role they play in the process of change for pluralism and an open society in Iran.

Packnett, the daughter of educators, currently serves as executive director for Teach For America in St. Louis and is a member of The Ferguson Commission, an empowered, independent and diverse group that will study the underlying social and economic conditions underscored by the unrest in the wake of the death of Michael Brown. The commission’s charge is to help chart a new path toward healing and positive change for residents in the St. Louis region and to offer best practices to communities across the country.

Spike Lee

Spike Lee

Lee, an American film director, producer, writer and actor, has been called a provocateur and a media icon. As one of the most outspoken African American voices, he has spoken candidly about issues of race in mainstream media and Hollywood. His celebrated body of work and its images of racial division and understanding have ingrained themselves on the popular consciousness for decades. His films include the Academy Award-nominated classic Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Summer of Sam, When the Levees Broke, his Peabody-winning HBO documentary on Hurricane Katrina, and his latest effort, Chi-Raq, a modern day adaptation of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, set against the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago.

Boehner served as speaker of the United States House of Representatives from January 2011 to October 2015. In 1990, he ran for U.S. Congress against incumbent Buz Lukens and won the election. As one of the House’s youngest members, Boehner was a part of the “Gang of Seven,” a group of freshmen Republicans who brought attention to corruption in Congress. By exposing scandals like the 1992 House Banking scandal, the Gang of Seven helped Republicans gain control of Congress in the 1994 elections–and Boehner became a rising Republican star.

This year’s Impact Symposium continues a longstanding tradition at Vanderbilt that began in 1964 when a group of Vanderbilt students saw the need to increase the campus’s exposure to current issues by providing a symposium in which intellectually challenging (and sometimes controversial) speakers could be heard.

In 1968, the series passed a milestone when Robert Kennedy drew a record attendance of 16,000 people from more than 100 college delegations across the United States. Kennedy was joined that year by Julian Bond, a leader of the civil rights movement and founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, along with William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the conservative magazine National Review.

Over the years, Impact programs have brought speakers such as Martin Luther King Jr., George McGovern, Robert McNamara, Jesse Jackson, former presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to campus.

For information about the Impact Symposium, call 615-322-2471 or visit <>.