Cafe Culture Shock

The atmosphere at CAFÉ’s, (Community Awareness For Everyone), first meeting last Friday was relaxed and welcoming. Jason Mraz played in the background. Students sipped on Starbucks coffee and munched on biscotti. Despite the calm ambiance, I worried that the meeting might be “too friendly” or “too PC.” “If I make a statement about black people, that kid’s going to hate me,” I thought. “If I offend a prep, I’ll never be allowed to pop my collar.” On the contrary, students openly accepted each others’ differences and voiced honest, frank opinions. The meeting served to break down borders between various groups of students and make discussions more authentic and sincere. For days, students saw puzzle pieces around campus which asked thought-provoking questions like, “Which dining hall do you sit in?” and “Why do you listen to Beyonce?” Students came to discuss the answers to these questions at the first meeting of CAFÉ. Dean of Community and Multicultural Development, Linda Carter Griffith, heard about “Socrates Cafés” growing popular on college campuses. “Socrates Cafés” give students the opportunity to come together to discuss philosophy over coffee. Ms. Griffith wanted to keep the coffee component and add an Andover twist by emphasizing Andover’s cultural and social diversity. The idea became a project in earnest at the end of Winter Term. Clubs such as Asian Society and Af-Lat-Am worked together to create a free forum for discussion. Meetings coordinated by Ms. Griffith and Assistant Director of Community Service, Susie Flug, allowed student leaders and people interested in the project to organize the first CAFÉ meeting. These leaders establihed topics to discuss and “ground rules” for the forum. These guidlines included “maintain cofidentiality” and “it’s okay to disagree.” One of the student coordinators, Todd Kwao-vovo ’06 said, “After a CAFÉ meeting, I hope that students can shed light on an issue with their own experiences and learn something new at the same time.” The turnout for CAFÉ’s first meeting was impressive. While the club expected around sixty people to come, in actuality, as many as one hundred and twenty people attended. Students completely filled the Underwood Room. Furthermore, the club leaders tentatively scheduled the meeting to last roughly an hour. Yet students remained for nearly four hours. The students at CAFÉ randomly divided into eight groups. The student leaders who organized the meeting acted as discussion monitors. They raised many of the issues for discussion. Comfortable in their groups, discussions intensified and spread into different issues. Topics discussed at this meeting included self-segregation by class and race, derogatory use of the word “gay,” comfort of whitewashing, feminism in the South, and stereotyping of dining halls and dorms. Although the general consensus was that our community segregates into small, inviolable cliques, the success of CAFÉ demonstrates that students want to change the status quo. “I feel like CAFÉ is the first club on campus which takes advantage of PA’s diverse student body,” said Atima Lui ’08. Our school is known for our substantial diversity, but students regard this variety as mere percentages. CAFÉ helps students comprehend and achieve diversity by actively participating in conversation. So next time, “Let’s talk over a cup of coffee.”