November 12, 2010
How do you get people to come together, talk and interact, despite different backgrounds? The answer: With food.
With that in mind, the Office of Religious Life spearheaded Common Grounds Coffee House at Cannon Chapel, Emory’s newest campus eatery. This unique café serves food from various religious and ethnic traditions.
“In the midst of strife around the world, this is a place for people to come together,” says Dean of the Chapel and Religious Life Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe. “While each tradition has its particular restrictions, there is nobody that can’t eat and congregate there.”
“Grab and go” food is available from 11 a.m., including kosher selections from Goodfriend’s Grill (see sidebar), halal items from Emory Dining, Mediterranean and Lebanese favorites from Zaya, salads and deli items.
The indoor seating area provides a welcoming place for students, faculty, staff and visitors to eat, talk, study or rest during the day.
Besides meeting the dietary restrictions of various religious groups, Common Grounds reaches out to other cultures as well, such as offering sushi, which is popular with Emory’s Korean students.
The café offers fair trade coffee and tea at the student-run Green Bean Coffee Cart beginning at 7:30 a.m. Customers waiting in line described their reasons for visiting the outdoor cart, ranging from convenience to the ethics of the cart’s fair trade principle. “Besides,” said one, “it’s the best coffee on campus.”
In the evenings, Common Grounds offers arts, films, coffee and conversation on artistic, cultural and religious expression topics.
A place for peacebuilding
Interaction and cooperation among people of different ethnic and faith backgrounds have been goals of the project from the beginning.
“Common Grounds is a place that encourages the exchange of ideas, intellectual life and artistry for the upbuilding of humankind, respect for others and peacebuilding,” says Henry-Crowe.
The Inter-Religious Council of 30 campus religious groups plans numerous activities at Common Grounds, including open mic nights where students perform poetry, comedy and music, entertainment aimed at promoting creative self-expression.
Senior Noor Najafi has been active in the Inter-Religious Council since his freshman year. Najafi, who is Muslim, has made the success of the café a personal endeavor.
“I wanted us to create a space to bring people together outside the main study areas on campus,” said Najafi, describing his involvement in Common Grounds. “I wanted to have a space where students could explore spirituality. Then we decided to add programming, and two years ago we began Café Unity.”
Najafi helps lead program initiatives with fellow student Ariel Wolpe.
As the concept evolved, Common Grounds developed as an overarching category including with Café Unity as one of its components, including an artistic expression program on Tuesday nights and films on Wednesdays. There are contemplative practices a few times a month upstairs in the chapel.
“Common Grounds is making a place for students to explore what it means to be in the world of college, where people are centered on their own worlds, focused on the rush of life and what’s next,” Najafi says. “Here people can explore the existential questions we all struggle with.”
Goodfriend's Grill at Marcus Hillel Center
A kosher menu is also offered at Goodfriend’s Grill at Ray’s Bistro, located inside Emory’s new Marcus Hillel Center.
“In fact,” says Emory Hillel Director Michael Rabkin, “Goodfriend’s is being used heavily by the Toco Hills community, many of whose residents maintain kosher standards,” says Emory Hillel Director Michael Rabkin.,. “It offers really good food at great prices, and there’s no other place to get Southern kosher barbecue in town.”