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La conversation n'appartient à personne

University of the Streets Café in the hallways of the Grande Bibliothèque
November 8, 2010
By Karen Herland
Source: Concordia Journal

Marc Nisbet, of the University of the Streets Café, chats with theatre professor Ted LIttle. Little will lead a conversation at the Grande Biblothèque. | Photo by Concordia University
Marc Nisbet, of the University of the Streets Café, chats with theatre professor Ted LIttle. Little will lead a conversation at the Grande Bibliothèque. | Photo by Concordia University

Concordia University is taking advantage of its newly minted partnership with the Bibliothèque et Archives national du Québec (BAnQ) to demonstrate our strength developing research and platforms to interact with the broader communities in which we live and work.

This interaction is being showcased with two University of the Streets Cafés in the Grande Bibliothèque. This allows us to present our model of citizen engagement to a wider Francophone community.

The Cafés are part of Concordia’s School of Extended Learning. Initiated by the Institute for Community Development, the program brings together leaders and researchers into informal conversation with interested people from all sectors of the community.

Marc Nisbet has been coordinating the conversations for nearly a year. He sees the cafés as a unique and necessary opportunity to “develop healthy communities, where citizens have a voice.

“I think there’s something about face-to-face discussion,” he adds. “You get to see body language and understand that people with different opinions are not necessarily speaking from a place of ignorance.”

On November 3, the first café at the BAnQ was led by Paula Bouffard of the Département d’études françaises. The cafés tables were filled with people eager to participate in a discussion on “Le français au Québec, un bien collectif à ménager?”

Bouffard, describes herself as a child of the post Bill 101 generation, “I didn’t really understand my geolinguistic history, I had to reappropriate it later.” Bouffard engaged the group of Francophones, Anglophones and allophones in a conversation about the place of French language, especially in the context of more recent political decisions, like Bill 115, redefining the terms of access to English education.

“The discussion was dynamic. Marc told me that by the time we opened up the discussion, 10 people had their hands raised to speak,” Bouffard said. “It was a great experience.”

Bouffard finds the principles of the cafés exciting. “Researchers are generally expected to defend a point of view and prove its validity,” she says. “This is an opportunity to just start a dialogue.”

Nisbet stresses the value of an opportunity to have an open-ended conversation. “In most lectures, you are listening to someone who has worked on a theory for a long time, there’s a certain defensiveness,” he says, “Citizens arrive opposed to the other side’s agenda.”

At University of the Streets Cafés “no one owns the discussion,” explains Nisbet, who has been running the project during Coordinator Elizabeth Hunt’s maternity leave. He was introduced to the model while working at Santropol Roulant, an intergenerational community project delivering meals to older people.

“We used to invite them to come lead discussions when we needed to crack a subject wide open,” Nisbet recalls. The tried and true formula has been very successful since it was adopted at Concordia about seven years ago. About 30 conversations are held every year.

Nisbet is excited about the BAnQ partnership and hopes the new venue will reach people in and around Montreal who might not have participated in these conversations yet. 

The next BAnQ University of the Streets Café features theatre Professor Ted Little on using theatre as a tool in community building on Thursday, November 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Grande Bibliothèque, 475 De Maisonneuve Blvd. E.

Related links:
•   President’s Conference Series
•   University of the Streets Cafés
•   Département d'études françaises

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