Meeting of the Minds: Open Conversations and Free Food

Meeting of the Minds, a new initiative on campus by TableTalk, brings 12 students and three faculty members together to have a conversation revolving around a single question. Where the conversation leads is fair game and open-ended, creating an intellectually stimulating and compelling experience. One moment smartphones are being discussed, the next moment, Donald Trump. This past February, the first Meeting of the Minds event was launched. The question guiding discussion was “Are smartphones ruining our lives or enhancing them?” As a participant myself, I was curious to hear the varied perspectives and opinions among professors and students that were bound to clash. With smartphones at the core of our cell phone saturated society, the meeting certainly sparked the intelligent minds that had congregated into the DUC Trustee Dining Room on that Thursday evening.

With an American Studies professor, English professor and biology professor present in the room, students appeared uneasy and reluctant to dive into discussion at the get-go. However, the moment everyone began chowing down on some pasta, the atmosphere immediately became calm and inviting. After each attendee gave his or her introduction and initial view regarding the effects of smartphones, the conversation commenced. There were no rules. The table was open to all voices; at any time, one of the students or professors could jump in with a word or question. At one point, I disagreed with an attendee regarding the effects of social media, and I was encouraged to expand on my point of view.

College freshman Nava Sedaghat Amalfard, came to the meeting as a last minute decision and was happy that she had done so. “The people in the room brought different topics to the table and provided contrasting ideas that made me think deeply about my own views about technology as a whole and its place in our daily lives,” Amalfard said. “The conversation was one of the most stimulating [ones] I have had since coming to Emory.”

The premise of Meeting of the Minds seems to be its clincher: other than in the classroom, there are few options for Emory students to interact and discuss leading issues with Emory faculty. Meeting of the Minds also provides an intellectual outlet to hear new perspectives on a relevant topic. It is the perfect opportunity to speak your mind in a judgement-free zone where all opinions are not only accepted, but appreciated. The combination of the relaxed setting, small number of people and delicious food certainly wipes away all nerves and hesitations. Raising your hand is not even an option; just jump right into the conversation.

Professor of American Studies Kim Loudermilk volunteered to participate after meeting one of the founders of Meeting of the Minds, College sophomore Matt Whitwell, at another TableTalk event this past semester. I spoke with her after the meeting, and she said she “was nervous” beforehand because the topic of smartphones was completely outside of her area of expertise. Yet this did not stop her from participating. She found Meeting of the Minds to be a great opportunity to “break down the barriers” between students and professors. Like many college students, Loudermilk was also terrified of her professors. Meeting of the Minds removes this fear. With no consequences or grades on the line, Emory students can have conversations with teachers (and peers) in an effective, unthreatening way. Meeting of the Minds can push you out of your comfort zone if you choose to be heavily engaged in the conversation. As Amalfard said, it ultimately allows you to “interact and discuss current societal issues with intellectually curious students and professors in a relaxed setting.”

The free Saba dinner served was the cherry on top to an event where all that is expected of you is to meet some fellow community members and speak your mind.

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