Professors stimulate new thought at Socrates Café

House of Thought’s “Socrates Café” aims to get people on campus discussing a variety of topics.

Senior Emily Knobbe, the moderator of HoT, said the house project has been in existence for several years.

Junior Erinn Colmenares has taken on the project and organized Socrates Cafe this year, totaling a number of four Socrates Café sessions in the past two semesters.

Colmenares said she had been interested in the house project for some time.

“It just intrigued me before I was a member of HoT,” she said.

Junior Natasha Franczyk, a member of HoT, said she thinks Socrates Café has become an ongoing tradition for the house.

“It’s one of those house projects that gets picked up by someone else almost every year, which means that it has taken a serious stature within the house,” she said.

Socrates Café is formatted as a series of discussions, sometimes regarding a particular theme.

“Last semester, the house project invited students for a general discussion without a given topic. The aim was to get people talking about “whatever is on people’s minds,” Colmenares said.

According to Colmenares, the attendance for last semester’s Socrates Café was low.

“There wasn’t any structure so that turned people off,” she said. “That’s why I made such drastic changes for this semester.”

In the spring, Colmenares decided to get professors involved. Professor John Stone-Mediatore, part-time instructor of Humanities-Classics, led the first discussion of the semester: “Radiohead Sucks.”

Colmenares said the theme of the discussion was whether an objective judgment could be made regarding what is good and bad art.

“There weren’t many people, but it didn’t matter because the discussion was good,” she said.

The event was “lecture style,” Colmenares said. Stone brought a painting, various CD’s and a book of poetry as pieces of art to discuss.

Colmenares said the group seemed to come to the conclusion that in order for something to be art, it must have a “sense of originality,” and that it is difficult to be “objective over something so subjective.”

The second Socrates Café topic was intelligence—what it is and why we need it. Professor Sarah Bunnell, assistant professor of psychology, led the discussion.

Colmenares said this discussion took the form of a debate, with IQ testing as a central topic.

Sophomore Ethan Hovest, who is taking child psychology with Bunnell, was present at the discussion and argued for IQ testing.

“I had to defend IQ testing by bringing up arguments related to its convenience and practicality, its effectiveness at predicting success in later life and relation to grade performance,” he said.

Bunnell argued against IQ testing, claiming it to be a flawed system.

“A few of her arguments involved the idea that (IQ testing) does not allow for divergent thinking, a.k.a. creativity, nor does it properly represent minorities,” Hovest said.

“The debate turned into more of a discussion with the people who attended … The audience brought up great arguments, as most of them were not from the field of psychology.”

Socrates Café’s third discussion involved love, and whether it was possible and real.

Professor Sally Livingston, assistant professor of Humanities-Classics, led the conversation and invited her students to come as an extra credit option, which Colmenares said created a “pretty big turnout.”

Colmenares said that senior Charley Donnelly argued on the “positive” side for love, while Livingston argued from the perspective that love could not exist.

Knobbe said he thinks involving different professors with Socrates Café was a successful shift from previous years.

“Erinn really revamped it this year,” she said. “The ‘professor vs. student’ format makes it really exciting, and the discussions are even better because people have had time to prepare.”

“ The past two events were very well attended and the most fun I’ve had at a Socrates Café.”
Franczyk said Socrates Café offers the opportunity for students to challenge professors while supporting the mission of HoT.

“Our mission is, essentially, to promote critical thought on campus,” she said.

“I think that one of the best ways to promote critical thought is to engage people in that process.”

“So coming to a debate between a professor and a student, and then turning that event into a discussion is a great combination.”

“We also give students the chance to be the ones who debate the professor.”

Knobbe said he thinks one of the most beneficial aspects of Socrates Café is that it brings many different perspectives together.

“It is open to all students, so we always end up with a wide variety of areas of expertise,” she said.

“For example, a philosophy major will base opinions on a topic very differently than a psychology or biology major. This way we get to experience a lot of new ways of thinking.”

Colmenares said this event is for anyone on campus.

“You don’t have to be a philosophy major to be good at discussing things,” she said.

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