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Agora Fellows turn the page

On Monday, November 16, the nine members of the Agora Fellowship shut their books and shared what they’d learned over the course of their meetings.  Throughout the fall semester, they had gathered each week to share their thoughts and reactions to the books they’d been reading, classics like The Wealth of Nations and John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty.

The books weren’t for a class though; they were for a reading group that Assistant Vice-Provost George Bragues created earlier this year. Dr. Bragues, who facilitated the student group’s discussions, heard about a similar reading group at another university and decided to bring his own spin to the University of Guelph-Humber.

At heart, it’s a simple idea: a small group of students, who applied and were selected to take part, gather each week to discuss the books on the reading list. The idea was popular though, and when applications opened last spring, more than 50 students applied to take part. 

“I’m always looking for ways to engage students intellectually, and this seemed like a great idea,” says Dr. Bragues. “In classes we mostly have students read textbooks or journal articles, they don’t often get a chance to read a work all the way through and discuss it together — I wanted to provide that.”

Dr. George Bragues talking to students at a table

As an overarching theme for the Fellowship, Dr. Bragues decided to focus on freedom.

“I thought it would be a topic that students from any program could talk about, and one that especially appeals to young people. The move to university is a big change for many of them, and with it comes increased freedom” he says. “I knew with this topic there would be lots of opinions and opportunities for debate.”

One of this year’s fellows, Emma Kelly, is a second-year Justice Studies student. She says the Agora Fellowship opened her up to works she’d never read before.  

“Having a conversation about these books as we read them made the ideas much more comprehensible and applicable to real life, and getting to hear from people of different backgrounds really helped me understand them.”

Along with that, the Fellowship’s collegial atmosphere prepared her to challenge herself.

“It was an atmosphere where I could comfortably question my own strongly held opinions,” she says. “I actually found myself agreeing with some of the other fellows’ thoughts that might otherwise have been diametrically opposed to my views.”

While the students have now closed their books, the Fellowship still has one more meeting planned for the winter semester. They’ll be travelling together to Washington, D.C. to continue their discussion of freedom while they see the sights of America’s capital city.

“Many of our discussions centred on government and how it facilitates and limits freedom,” says Dr. Bragues. “This seemed like the perfect place to explore that theme.”

Given the enthusiastic student response to the Agora Fellowship, Dr. Bragues plans to run the program again during the 2016 academic year.

More information about the Agora Fellowship can be found on their website.