Months after Dean Elmore’s Coffee & Conversation came to an end, the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground announced a new program to offer Boston University a similar forum for expression.
The program, called “Agora: The Mind Market,” is expected to launch Friday, HTC officials said.
“The Dec. 7 Agora launch event is like a teaser to see how the program goes,” said Christian Cho, assistant director of the HTC. “That gives us enough time to make some changes for the spring if things don’t work. We’re willing to examine every aspect. Nothing is off the table.”
One of the major differences between Agora and Coffee & Conversation is that Dean Elmore will not moderate the talks, he said. Cho said he will serve as the moderator in the beginning, but he is trying to invite others to lead them.
Cho created Agora based on feedback from students who frequently attended previous Coffee & Conversations.
“In those conversations, I was told people missed the open format [of Coffee & Conversation],” he said. “And I also heard there were cases where people dominated conversations and got away with saying inflammatory things. So I had to think of a way to make it more egalitarian and more respectful.”
Cho said Agora will be a program for students interested in discussing provocative issues.
“We’re not about playing it safe at the Howard Thurman Center,” he said. “People might associate Agora with C & C, but I want people to be aware of other programs we offer here, who Howard was and what he stood for.”
Evan Kuras, a College of Arts and Sciences junior, said he began attending Coffee & Conversation his freshman year realizing it was an important forum for discussions.
“A space to talk about complex problems is what college is all about,” he said. “We’re here at college to learn and grow and change the world. Agora will hopefully help fill that gap.”
When Wilaene Gonzalez, a CAS junior, returned from her spring 2011 semester abroad, she was disappointed to find out Coffee & Conversation had ended.
“I did it as a sophomore,” Gonzalez said. “There was coffee and cookies, and it was a great way to meet people and hear different perspectives. I’ll always remember the Halloween one, which was a special event where people discussed what they were afraid of.”
Although she said she is skeptical of how successful Agora will be, Gonzalez said she will probably attend.
“I feel Dean Elmore was such a big part of Coffee & Conversation,” she said. “The fact that you could hang out with him was such a big thing. To interact with someone in a high administrative position on a more personal level was really cool.”
However, CAS junior Kate Cotty, who regularly attended the Coffee & Conversations last year, said Dean Elmore does not need to be part of the conversation for it to be successful.
“He started these types of events, but I think the student body can take it from here now,” she said.
Agora will also use Twitter to expand the conversation, which will also allow students who are abroad or sick to participate, Cho said.
Kuras said not enough people took advantage of Twitter in Coffee & Conversation.
“It allows people to participate if they’re not confident or don’t like being in big groups,” he said. “I like using it to attach videos and articles relevant to the discussion. It brings legitimacy and authority to the conversation, as people often make up statistics or make unsubstantiated claims.”
Despite its open format, CAS freshman Dean Nguyen said he probably would not participate in Agora activities in person but might engage on Twitter.
“I’d be too scared to go,” Nguyen said. “I feel like it would be weird to share your opinion. I’m not good with conflicting ideas. I think it would be awkward to be in the middle of two sides of a conversation.”
Cotty said Twitter might make the conversation more disjointed.
“Twitter might make it a little more difficult to bring both conversations that are going on live at the event and online together, but I could be wrong,” she said.
Shannon Chapman, a College of Fine Arts sophomore, said she never attended Coffee & Conversation because she was too busy to go, but she might be interested in Agora.
“It’s a good way to get involved and it’s a different way to get involved,” she said. “This is different in that you meet people by talking about a topic.”