When police foundations students in his ethics class approached him with an interest to discuss some topics in more depth, Chris Martin came up with a concept that allows them to learn without the pressure of assessments — and to stretch their academic muscles.
Gun control and religion are among the topics covered in a weekly event Martin has called Tea and Chat. During this time, students sip tea while participating in a respectful dialogue that encourages them to work towards finding common ground on polarizing issues.
The event has become a place where students can leave their uniforms at the door and discuss topics that they might not have the chance to touch on in their traditional classroom settings.
For Martin, Tea and Chat presents an opportunity for the students to lead the conversation and learn from each other.
“The key is to make people feel as though it’s just a place for them to have meaningful conversations,” he said in an interview with the Times. “For that time, I want to strip away the fact that I’m the professor and that I’m an authority figure so that they will be more comfortable.”
Students who have taken part from the beginning have found value in these meetings and see the importance of sharing different sides.
“All opinions are put on the table and no one is judged for it,” said first-year student Becky Leung. “I really think that the encouragement for people from all walks of life to come in here, enjoy some tea and have casual conversations about serious issues has the power to break down barriers.”
Nathan Smith, a first-year student and class representative for the police foundations program, has also attended every week. According to him, Tea and Chat has been a place for accepting that you don’t always have the ultimate and correct point of view.
“This has been a valuable space where opinions are vocalized by people with vastly different beliefs and ways of thinking,” he said.
Joshua Marquis, a second-year student, sees it as a way for those with beliefs that might not be as popular to share their side.
“Looking at the news, you can see that our current political climate is getting really polarizing and different views are being combatted,” he said. “I think this has been really good in the sense that it has brought us back to discussing ideas and concepts and trying to come up with different ways of thinking by listening to other people.”
According to Martin, the students have always been respectful of each other, even when they hold very different opinions and it comes down to the fact that they are simply eager to continue their learning outside of class.
“Learning doesn’t stop in the classroom,” said first-year student Ahmad Haidar. “I am continuing to learn here by listening to the different perspectives of my peers.”
For Martin, the concept he has created aims to reach people and he can see that it has reached the students who have participated so far. He has been impressed that Tea and Chat has showed just how much his students want to expand their minds.
“It has helped me realize that what keeps the lights on in this place is the people who just want to learn, really expand their worldview and think critically.”