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Online connections and the search for happiness: University of the Streets is back

Concordia’s café conversations series' winter program begins February 18
February 9, 2016


A group of strangers gets together in a public space to talk about current topics, share stories of personal success and failure, and ask each other hard questions about life.

Concordia’s University of the Streets Café public conversation series begins its winter schedule on Thursday, February 18. The talks aim to encourage forms of introspection and empathy that are hard to come by in our daily lives, especially the parts lived online.

Helping Concordia 'embrace the city'

Offered through Concordia’s Office of Community Engagement, University of the Streets Café is an extension of the university’s longstanding commitment to work with communities beyond its campuses.

“The program recognizes the value of lived experiences and lifelong learning,” says Bram Freedman, Concordia’s vice-president of Advancement and External Relations, who oversees the Office of Community Engagement.

“The decentralized pedagogical approach of our public conversations has time and time again opened up Concordia to community members eager to build connections, share experiences and learn from one another.”

Freedman says University of the Streets Café helps the university to fulfill its mandate to “embrace the city” and evolve as a future-facing institution.


Connected by common threads

Alex Megelas, the program’s new coordinator, has attended conversations for the past eight years, moderating or serving as guest at 20 of them.

“This seemed exactly what I needed to be doing right now. It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of,” Megelas says.

Most University of the Streets Café conversations are two hours long and are held more or less weekly in coffee shops and community spaces across Montreal.

“Through our spaces, participants get a chance to grapple with important issues. They are able to hear expert perspectives and are encouraged to make sense of the topic through dialogue,” he says.

Megelas says that in his experience, the common threads people discover in conversation help break isolation and inspire personal connections.

“This doesn’t mean that friendships are automatically created or that new community projects will emerge — though both have happened — but at the very least, participants have been able to experience their collective shared investment in an issue and to experience commonalities with people with whom they share a city.”

‘You don’t need a PhD to have an opinion’

Former University of the Streets coordinator and longtime participant Elizabeth Hunt has spent years evaluating the merits of public conversations.

“Conversations and dialogue are about critical consciousness. How are we making sense of the world around us?” she says. "It’s about allowing people to share their stories, have their ideas challenged and challenge others’ ideas."

The value of public conversation hit Hunt personally when her father was invited to speak as a guest. A lifelong blue-collar worker at the Port of Montreal, he had fallen sick with cancer. Hunt says her father, who has since passed, appreciated the opportunity to share his experience with cancer and see it resonate with those who had congregated at the café that day. 

“That was kind of a game-changer,” she says. “For me that was for the first time I emotionally connected with the program.”

The conversations aren’t so much about the invited moderators or guests, she says; but about providing average people the opportunity to practice listening, as well as articulating their thoughts.

“You don’t need a PhD to have an opinion. That’s the potential of conversations — the guy with the story is so much more interesting.”

The 2016 winter series opens at the Atwater Library and Computer Centre on Thursday, February 18. Moderator Linda Overing will invite Andrew MacLean and Shanly Dixon to discuss “Connecting online: Is the Internet a useful space for dialogue and deliberation?”

Check out the entire winter 2016 schedule of public conversations

Each event takes place from 7 to 9 p.m.

Thursday, February 18
Connecting online: Is the Internet a useful space for dialogue and deliberation?
Moderator: Linda Overing
Guests: Andrew MacLean and Shanly Dixon
Location: Atwater Library and Computer Centre (1200 Atwater Ave.)

Thursday, February 25
Connecting online: How is technology impacting our "real-world" relationships?
Moderator: Linda Overing
Guest: Tieja Thomas
Location: La Petite Cuillère (3603 St-Denis St.)

Monday, February 29
The hide-and-seek happiness game: Where should we be looking?
Moderator: Rehab Mahmoud
Guest: Samantha Barley
Location: Caffè della Pace (1002 Van Horne Ave.)

Thursday, March 10
You’re not my type: What to expect when raising neurologically atypical (exceptional) children
Moderator: Jamie Robinson
Guests: Ana Milic and Iskra Peltekova
Location: La Tasse Gamine (5658A Parc Ave.)

Monday, March 14
Calling all volunteers: How to best allocate our time and resources
Moderator: Miriam Fahmy
Guests: Minda Bernstein and Bernadette Johnson
Location: Café Bloom (1940 Centre St.)

Wednesday, March 16
The power of profit: How can we ensure that social entrepreneurs create profitable business models while responding to community needs?
Moderator: Jimmy Hung
Guests: Nicolas Nadeau and Mauricio Buschinelli
Location: Burritoville (2055 Bishop St.)

Thursday, March 24
Living in a global world: How to interact directly with the next generation to address the realities of environmental change
Moderator: Christian Scott
Guests: Liz Miller and Sherwin Pereira
Location: Educational Community Living Environment (3559 University St.)

Wednesday, April 6
Home: What’s love got to do with it?
Moderator: Afra Tucker
Guests: Patrick McKenna and Susan Edey
Location: Café l’Artère (7000 Parc Ave.)

Monday, April 11
Living in a global world: What does it mean to be a global citizen?
Moderator: Vijay Kolinjivadi
Guests: Shelina Adatia and Asif Aly Penwala
Location: Burritoville (2055 Bishop St.)

Thursday, April 28
Don’t let the bed bugs bite: How do we overcome the mental health impact of bed bug infestations?
Moderator: Sasha Dyck
Guest: André Trepanier
Location: Café l’Artère (7000 Parc Ave.)


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