Café Mehfil (with Parsons Paris Student Government 2020-21)
– Zahra Mansoor Hussain, President of Parsons Paris Student Government 2020/21
We launched on March 20th, a new initiative called Café Mehfil as a place where students could gather in a safe and informal way outside the classroom, evaluation and moderation of teachers, to have conversations.
The need for an informal space for discussion outside of the classroom, initiated by and moderated by students themselves, is something we heard calls for repeatedly through the Change Summit initiative last semester. We often make projects in class that deal with socio-political issues, we often talk about politics and social issues on our instagrams- here we will have a space to discuss these ideas to give all of us confidence and insight to widen our worldview, empathy, and critically enrich ourselves and our work.
We’re an incredibly international student body, with almost 70% of students at Parsons Paris being international. The Café is about fully utilising the rich diversity of perspectives that we have- it’s a precious resource.
The Café sessions ran each Saturday with a different prompt and set of students attending (with sign up and content suggestions being done through open-source sheets sent to students). They evolved organically from some sessions having guest students from other schools coming on to contribute, some sessions having professors coming on as guests, and from the second session onwards, the Café was also published as a podcast out of students’ want to be able to catch up later and archive the conversations we were having.
There was a poignancy about how we all gathered at school on sleepy Saturday mornings and zoomed in our other peers, just talking and sipping mint tea in Paris’ cold spring as the diluted sunlight shone in through the first floor windows at Saint-Roch. Our topics of discussion ranged from the democratization of English language to religion and how it shapes poetry- the Mehfil managed to take these issues and help us approach them through our situatedness as international students. We also experimented with the sessions- once, we invited our grandmothers to come on and enjoyed their stories, unwinding as it got close to finals week at Parsons. Another time, we listened to each other reciting spoken word and poetry.
Café Mehfil made me appreciative of both, the power of audio and the simple act of sitting and listening to someone’s voice. It made me aware of the value of perspective and that the biggest resource and source of learning that you have available at school is but those who are around you. You can check out the podcast on Spotify, Apple Music, Google Podcasts, and others linked to our dashboard.