For the past several years, Hart House’s Global Commons program has been bringing together students from across the globe to discuss issues of critical importance through real-time video chat.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen people around the globe turn to technology as a primary source of interaction … so you could say the Hart House Global Commons program was ahead of the curve. Typically, Hart House Global Commons brings University of Toronto students together at locations across the three U of T campuses, where students from international locations call-in to the conversation using video conferencing technology. This Global Commons session was different because even the University of Toronto students depended on technology to take part in the program. Students called in from Manila, Shanghai and other cities around the world, as the pandemic halted in-person programming and international travel.

This Global Commons session was entitled “Lessons in a New Normal—What the Post-COVID Future Offers” and featured Dr. Aisha Ahmad as our scene setter, John Monahan as moderator and Mahrukh Ahmed as host. We talked with a U of T student and a student from Science Po to ask about their experience.

Q & A

Hart House (HH): How did you hear about the Hart House Global Commons, and was this the first year you participated?

Andi Darell Alhakim, U of T student in Indonesia (ADA): This was indeed my first time participating, and I can excitedly say that it left an impression on me so great that I just knew I had to attend future Hart House Global Commons even before my first one ended. Marco, our staff advisor at the Hart House Debates and Dialogue Committee, who invited me to participate in and facilitate one of the breakout group discussions, was familiar with my involvement in climate advocacy groups. He believed that such a perspective would help steer a conversation on the current global pandemic and its effects.

Marie Moreau, Sciences Po student in Paris (MM): I discovered the Hart House Global Commons through my school’s recommendation to attend conferences. The session on “What the Post-COVID Future Offers” was the first event I participated in. 

What was it like as a U of T student to be participating from abroad this year?

ADA: It was definitely an experience like no other. I knew that a global discussion amongst students, academics, and professionals from just about anywhere in the world would be enlightening. I found it interesting that, as a U of T student, my conversations with peers were no longer grounded in nor informed by my familiarity with the Toronto context. I was now also seeking to better understand the recent developments within Toronto itself due to my departure from the city since mid-March.

The topic “Resilience through Challenging Times” couldn’t have been timelier during COVID-19. What was the biggest takeaway for you from this discussion?

ADA: Professor Ahmad spoke at length about how she lived through regions ravaged by war, famine, and destruction in general, and yet still had to find ways to remain positive and productive. According to her, one key approach was to fully accept the situation at hand and not attempt to sugar-coat any of it. She explained that your mind would need to first adjust to this potentially life-threatening situation, which drains your mental alertness and causes frequent fatigue and to not attempt to fast-track the slow recovery towards productivity.

MM: My biggest take away from this discussion was that I could empathize with others by realizing that overall, we reacted similarly to the COVID-19 crisis. During the lockdown, many of us asked ourselves whether the way we reacted to the situation was normal, preventing us from quickly going from acceptance to adaptation to find new productivity. By building a link between students from all around the world, this session of Hart House Global Commons let me put things into perspective and break out of my isolation. I was able to overcome the question of the situation: “Is it normal that I feel so lost?”—and find new ways of using the time that was offered to me. 

How important is it for students to connect with others worldwide for these types of talks?

ADA: It might just be at the top of the list. In part, this connects to the key reason I aspired to attain a Canadian education in the first place. The nature of learning within the classroom is that your insights are both informed by and will inform what you do outside of it. Connecting with others from around the world, in an age in which the world itself seems rather unrecognizable, would serve as an essential toolkit. In a way, ties into how academia is essentially about the sharing and leveraging of knowledge to improve lives. Indeed, I remain optimistic that we will find a way through this and emerge as a society with a new conscience.

MM: The talk’s international dimension enabled me to have a more global perception of the current situation and gave me insight into how we are all facing the same challenges across the globe. 

Do you feel the Hart House Global Commons is a useful forum for discussion?

ADA: For this particular event, which included a pivot toward climate advocacy, it was enlightening to see how the conversation naturally flowed from the overarching effects of the pandemic to the adverse by-products that it may have on sustainability. A participant suggested that the commuting patterns among citizens would be changing, with residents opting more for private vehicles than public transit, which would undoubtedly further perpetuate greenhouse gas emissions. Following this, a public policy researcher within the group offered some data to back up this claim. These interactions, specifically between experts leveraging the insights of their own fields to reinforce the construction of an idea within the larger group, is a dynamic that is truly priceless to both witness and be involved in. 

MM: The Hart House Global Commons is a useful forum of discussion because it creates a space for both learning and creating. Knowledge can be shared by specialists such as Dr. Aisha S. Ahmad, and students are invited to exchange points of view, making us think and develop new ideas for contemporary challenges.

Past Hart House Global Commons Events

Thu, Aug 27, 2020  / 9:00 am – 10:30 am

The Way Forward: Indigenous Leadership for a Just Future

Join students from around the world for an interactive discussion about what Indigenous Leadership can teach us.