Students Weigh in at Coffee and Conversation

by Alexa Schmidt & Samantha Walla

Staff Writers

On the first night of October, a mass shooting occurred on the Las Vegas Strip. It was reported that 58 were killed and that 489 were injured. This was the deadliest mass shooting by one person in U.S. history. On October 4, Manhattan College’s Multicultural Center held its third weekly Coffee and Conversation to discuss this topic. 

Advertised as an event for “open-minded people,” Coffee and Conversation meets almost three times a month and aims to open a dialogue among students regarding the current events of the campus, community, and world at large.

This main goal of Coffee and Conversation, which is to broaden student views on important matters, continued to drive Monday’s event.

“We learned that it worked to have a topic that we can anticipate people having maybe different opinions on,” said Michael Vinci, a civil engineering student. “You come in, you discuss it, you hash it out and talk about your position and that’s what gets people to talk. It’s integral to the whole program.”

At the start of the event attendees wrote their definition of terrorism on a piece of paper before exchanging them with one another to anonymously share and discuss the complicated definition of terrorism.

After the brief introduction to the topic, the group delved into the topic of the week. To jump start discussion, a 2015 CNN article “When is a Mass Shooting Considered Terrorism?” was read and discussed.

With a topic as complex as terrorism, the discussion ranged far beyond personal responses and opinions to the event. Students brought up the logistics of gun laws, the media’s response to the incident, and the way in which police handle attacks of this magnitude. There were no breaks in discussion as students had a lot to say about the issue. Despite the grave nature of the topic, the talk served not only as an intellectual platform, but as a place of emotional support.

When dealing with upsetting and intricate topics, it is easy for people to refrain from speaking their minds. Tondreanna Esquilín and Mary Harsch, who serve on the Events Board along with Vinci, have experienced this first-hand.

“Sometimes the back-and-forth between two people really discourages others from talking,” said Harsch. “In this environment, we don’t want to discourage anyone from saying their opinion, regardless of whether it’s drastically different than our opinion.”

This open nature of the Multicultural Center is an opportune place for meeting new people, especially for first-year students.

Although the Multicultural Center is fairly new, it regularly hosts Poetry Night, Trivia Night and Movies and Desserts in addition to Coffee and Conversation. This year they have began offering breakdancing classes in Alumni Hall to immerse students in hip hop culture.

Hayden Greene serves as the coordinator of the Multicultural Events Board, but the students are mostly self-directed in leading, setting up, and advertising for the events. This self-direction allows for any student to start an event through the Multicultural Center.

“As long as there’s a purpose or meaning behind it, creates conversations, thought, provokes something, you’re not just doing something for fun. It’s to benefit the student body,” said sophomore
Tondreanna Esquilín.

The Events Board meets once a week to plan their events, including the topics for Coffee and Conversation, which are usually based on current events. Other weeks the topics are centered around historical events or history month, as seen by this semester’s previous topics, such as DACA and Hurricane Maria during Latino Heritage Month. The members recall last year’s election producing the biggest turnout.

Above all, the Multicultural Center aims for Coffee and Conversation to be a place where all students can feel comfortable speaking their minds.

“It’s important to know that this is a respectful place. The point of it is that someone who is anti-abortion can come in here and talk with someone who is pro-abortion and they can still have that mutual respect for each other and just hear each other’s sides. Or someone who is conservative can talk with somebody who is liberal. This is a place for them where they can just come and talk about it and express their opinions safely,” said Esquilín.