Features’ Society Spotlight: Open Forum

By Ella Al-Kahlil Coyle

The only way to start this is to tell you a little story. It was a cold, rainy Tuesday in late January at 10:37am (okay well I can’t actually remember exactly when it was, but it was raining), a first-year law student sits in the Billy B in between lectures, ‘studying’, when a Durfess captures her attention. It’s about body image. She drafts an insightful eloquent rebuttal which comes from a place of personal experience and passionate opinion. She waits. Twenty minutes later it’s posted, and from then a flood of comments and submitted responses ensue but none are creating a dialogue, they’re all just shouting into the void, inevitably falling to the back of an oversaturated Facebook page.

There’s a flood of comments and submitted responses but none are creating a dialogue, they’re all just shouting into the void

So, when the next day a close friend of mine (if you hadn’t guessed yet, I am the ‘she’ in the story) came to me saying there was an issue with the Stephenson Debate Society and she was either going to have to rework the concept or close the society, I took that as my opportunity. I grew up debating, and MUN-ing and Student Goverment-ing and generally taking any and every opportunity to talk. I loved each and every opportunity I had but after a while they were insufferably repetitive and I realised how unproductive our discussions were. All people were concerned with was appearing intelligent, there was no real communication and no genuine or substantial development in our understanding of the issues or ourselves. I thought we could do better, thus, I introduce you to Open Forum.

All people were concerned with was appearing intelligent, there was no real communication

We wanted to provide a platform to, in an informal yet moderated manner, really delve into topics that we care about, a sort of middle ground between a formal debate and the weirdly intense political discussions that happen in my kitchen at 2am. All our topics are based on submitted suggestions and there is always an anonymous portal open for people to submit any comments or stories they want to share but with the protection of anonymity. The spotlight is on the issues, not the people, and most importantly it’s never a competition. It’s about bringing people together in a non-judgemental space to share their experiences and hopefully leave with a wider perspective on the issue and a deeper understanding of their own opinion.

It’s a platform to really delve into topics that we care about, a sort of middle ground between a formal debate and the weirdly intense political discussions that happen in my kitchen at 2am

We may not change the world overnight, but Open Forum is our small start. If everyone just took a little bit more time to listen to the people they don’t agree with, maybe it would help us get somewhere. Despite being new, we were the recipients of Stephenson’s Society of the Year award last year, and while we are based at Stevo we currently have members from over 5 different colleges, so if you think Open Forum is something you’d be interested in, check us out on Facebook for more information. I know people think there’s nothing worse than walking all the way up the hill, but trust me, it’s worth it for the great people and even better conversation.

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