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University of the Streets Café: ‘How can we shape the landscape that we’re part of?’

This fall, Concordia’s public conversation series explores what it means to take action
September 13, 2017
By Meagan Boisse

What does it mean to be an active citizen? How do we measure social impact on the individual level? Do we have the power to change our world?

The fall season of University of the Streets Café, a public conversation series set in community spaces across Montreal, will address these questions and more.

The series, organized by Concordia’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE), kicks off September 19.

Alex Megelas, programs and communications coordinator at the OCE, explains that the event is much more than a one-sided lecture or presentation.

“It’s a conversation, and everyone is invited to participate,” he says.

“The café is an exercise in bridge-building that connects Concordia to the city it belongs to.”

Charmaine Lyn, senior director of the OCE, points out that the program’s commitment to dialogue is reflected in the public venues chosen for the conversation. “The Office of Community Engagement seeks to actively foster a culture of accessibility at the university,” she says.

We’re proud of the fact that University of the Streets Café is trying to ensure physical accessibility to its programming. As is the case in the Café conversations, we believe in listening to and learning from others who may inform and advance our commitments.”

Eight events, organized under the theme Private Choices/Public Impact, are on the schedule this season, with the last one scheduled for December 8. The wide spectrum of topics include questions of accessibility, privacy, social change, art and public space.

“We want to look at how the choices we make trickle up into community and culture,” says Megelas. “We want to explore whether, as individuals, we have the capacity to shape the landscape we’re a part of.”

“The theme may sound broad, but really it’s about how we navigate the boundaries in our lives, and how we belong.”

Unexpected opportunities         

Since its inception in 2003, the University of the Streets Café has hosted more than 400 public conversations on a myriad of timely topics.

Megelas says the initiative is in line with Concordia’s identity as a next-generation university — an institution that listens and engages in dialogue, both on and off campus.

“The series joins together a wide range of actors who are all positively invested in fostering critical engagement, often at the neighbourhood level,” he notes. “For a university like Concordia, that can lead to unexpected possibilities that are locally based.”

Here are two conversations to look out for this term:

Local Successes and Big Picture Shifts: How will we know when change has happened?

This conversation will explore how we can know if our actions have resulted in a larger societal shift.

“It’s about monitoring impact,” says Megelas. “Often people are active in their community, in research and trying to improve the world around them. But how can we point to benchmarks and say that change has been reached?”

Susan Edey from the OCE will moderate the discussion, which will include guests Tatiana Fraser, co-author of Girl Positive and co-founder of Girls Action Foundation, and Eric Abitbol, senior consultant with Universalia, and founder of University of the Streets Café.

September 19, 7 to 9 p.m., New School at Dawson College (3040 Sherbrooke W.)

Accessibility, Visibility and Privacy: What are some ways we navigate access needs in our public and private lives?

What does accessibility mean, and who decides? This conversation will explore how we talk about accessibility.

“We often invoke accessibility either through the lens of system and structure design or social services, or in relation to social justice,” says Megelas.

“However, we know that a commitment to accessibility is an amalgamation of all three. Accessibility is a complex term which can be considered beyond an expressed commitment to universal accessibility, which may sometimes miss the mark when it comes to the need for a tailored approach.”

Feminist activist Abby Lippman will moderate the conversation, which will include Gift Tshuma, an accessibility rights advocate based out of McGill, and Aimee Louw, a Concordia researcher who works closely with the Critical Disability Studies Working Group.

October 30, 7 to 9 p.m., Montréal, arts interculturels (MAI) (3680 Jeanne-Mance)

Check out these and the six other conversations happening this term through Concordia’s University of the Streets Café. The series wraps up with a storytelling café on Friday, December 8. See the
fall schedule for details.



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