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An Open Mind Is Honors: The Story of Friday Forums

By: Arpan Chakraborty, Class of 2017, Major: Biological Sciences

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When I came to college, I had expectations. I was looking forward to the intellectual stimulation. I was looking forward to stretching my mind, filtering out old ways of thinking, and absorbing new ideas. I was looking forward to growth as a human being. To my pleasure, I received this experience my freshman year when I took Dr. Hulsey’s University Honors 101 course, “The Quest for Meaning.” In this class, I spent one hour a week having critical dialogue with an intellectually demanding professor.

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I quickly learned, however, that outside of the context of a classroom where discussion is dependent upon participation points, students do not want to talk about issues such as the meaning of religion, whether God is real, or whether we truly have free will – amongst other things. People are generally uncomfortable challenging their beliefs (notice challenging, not changing). It is hard to leave your comfort zone and acknowledge other perspectives. It is even more difficult to see the positives in opposing beliefs, whether those be political, religious, or personal. I quickly learned that I was not going to be able to have a deep intellectual discussion as to whether we really have free will while hanging out with my peers. Soon enough, I lost the desire as well. However, my Honors study abroad in Oxford, England rekindled this desire in my heart. The conversations about life, religion, and our beliefs made me crave the discussions and existential discourse after the program’s end date.

pensive“I yearn to create an environment where students could speak their mind about critical issues without fear of being socially ostracized or ridiculed. As an honors student, I feel like it is quintessential to have the dialogue that Friday Forums provides as a part of a fulfilling college experience.”

This is why I started Honors Friday Forums, a weekly critical discussion group open to all Honors students. We meet for an hour each Friday to discuss an important topic and a shared reading. In this group, I yearn to create an environment where students could speak their mind about critical issues without fear of being socially ostracized or ridiculed. As an honors student, I feel like it is quintessential to have the dialogue that Friday Forums provides as a part of a fulfilling college experience. I believe that all Honors students should have the ability to speak about and consider the ideas and views that they may not necessarily believe in or find controversial in a calm, open-minded manner. This skillset is critical in life. The ability to empathize with others, whether in the workplace or on the social scene, stems from the capability to understand differing points of view, not only because “everyone is entitled to their opinion” but also because there is good and bad to almost every perception. In Friday Forums, I urge students to think about the topics of discussion not only from their personal points of view, but also from opposing cognitions in order to realize just that. By doing this, I hope to instill the ability to empathize and to understand different humans without judgment. Students who attend Friday Forums will be able to engage in higher-level conversation and will hopefully reap the benefits later in their lives when they encounter a future patient, business partner, or client with different views and beliefs.

IMG_2146“Education is supposed to open your mind. Friday Forums sparks this process, fostering a generation that will be equipped with the ability to reconcile the differences that hold us back from creating a more understanding, compassionate world.”

I am convinced that most issues that divide the human race today can be derived from a lack of understanding. When people are raised to believe one thing and to not question their beliefs, it breeds misunderstanding and distaste for those different from your own. It creates in-groups and out-groups, which in turn creates fictitious divisions among us. College is supposed to change this. Education is supposed to open your mind. However, this process cannot be accomplished without the will to do so. Friday Forums sparks this process, fostering a generation that will be equipped with the ability to reconcile the differences that hold us back from creating a more understanding, compassionate world.

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