R.I.P. Café Alt
Professor Jenepher Lennox Terrion is no newcomer to the University of Ottawa. A longtime member of the department of communications, she stepped on as the vice dean of student affairs for the faculty of arts in July of 2020.
One of Lennox Terrion’s first initiatives since her appointment as vice dean is already taking off: the new digital Arts Bistro.
The Arts Bistro is something of a digital replacement for in-person hangouts like Café Alt (which will not reopen for the rest of the academic year) and Café Nostalgica. It’s meant to be an online spot for networking, relaxing, studying, and meeting new people from the faculty. The Bistro even has a team of “baristas” who can help connect students with counseling services, academic support services, and members of the faculty of arts administration.
“There’s a nice touch of humanity,” said Lennox Terrion. (Shhhh, don’t tell anyone, but Lennox Terrion and the “barista” share an email account, so student concerns and questions can be addressed directly by the administration.)
Over the summer, she organized a team of four students enrolled in the University’s work-study program to help field requests at the Arts Bistro help desk.
“They’re trained in helping with relationships, and they can help get you the support you need quickly. Instead of sending you off on your own to another building on campus, it’s like they’re walking with you to the right desk. They can connect you with mental health services, academic support, and things like time management skills, too,” she said.
The Arts Bistro plans to feature live digital performances in the coming months, as well (performances, meaning not just music but readings, theatre, comedy – whatever people are willing to share).
The idea for the space was first proposed as a measure to improve mental health on campus.
“That’s our priority. There’s an overwhelming sense of loneliness and sadness that’s been heightened by the pandemic, and we want the Bistro to be a place where people can connect and find important information,” said Lennox Terrion.
The Bistro is easy to find, too, and that’s by design: “it’s the first thing that comes up when you type ‘arts bistro’ into Google. We worked hard with our consultant, Stephane Souparayapoule, to make sure it was easily accessible.”
So far, the Bistro has been a success, and over 100 students have used the help desk. The faculty is working hard to spread awareness about the Bistro amongst all of the U of O student body.
“That’s the important thing. It’s not just for arts students. We want it to be a place where any student at the University can connect with other students,” she said.
This project is an important display of transparency for the faculty of arts, who have previously been criticized for not being adequately responsive to students’ needs.
“The help desk and the ‘barista’ email can help address students’ problems with the faculty before they grow into full-blown ‘complaints’,” said Lennox Terrion. This is a promising sign of real change coming to the administrative structure at the University.
There is also an initiative to showcase student entrepreneurs’ products at the Arts Bistro, one predicated on the idea that the University will buy students’ products to use as contest prizes and to display on social media. This will hopefully drive traffic to both the students’ products and the Arts Bistro itself.
“We want this to be a place where we can show student work and let students mingle with each other. We’re filling the gap left by Café Alt and making it even better.”