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Serving up the best education in Sydney's watering holes

18 September 2015

The city's bar scene is getting set for an academic shake up as we bring the worldwide Raising the Bar initiative to Sydney.

Dr Tanya Latty and Dr David Allsop in Knox Street Bar.

Credit: University of Sydney/Victoria Baldwin

On 20 October, Sydney’s watering holes will be transformed into classrooms for one night as 20 academics enter 20 bars to deliver 20 thought-provoking talks.

The University of Sydney has joined Raising the Bar to bring the popular worldwide initiative, which has previously run in New York, Hong Kong and London, to Sydneysiders.

Established in 2014, Raising the Bar began with a group of students from Columbia University and New York University who were looking to share the unique learning experience from the world’s greatest minds with the general public.

The first ever Raising the Bar Sydney event aims to change the city’s popular culture to make education a key element.

Raising the Bar’s CEO Yuli Luvish said the initiative seeks to create an environment for leading scholars and thought-leaders to share their knowledge in an intimate and personal way.

“We are very fortunate to collaborate with the prestigious University of Sydney to host Raising the Bar Sydney,” said Ms Luvish.

“This event is part of the RTBLocal program looking to make education accessible and find new ways for people to harness knowledge and spark innovation by bringing quality content to unique and unexpected places.”

Speakers will discuss topics as broad as ground-breaking research in medicinal cannabinoids from Dr David Allsop to Professor Sahar Amer questioning why Muslim women wear the veil. 

To veil or not to veil?” 

Presented by Professor Sahar Amer (School of Languages and Cultures) at Knox Street Bar        

Putting aside Western assumptions of veiling, Professor Sahar Amer will discuss the multitude of reasons why Muslim women choose to veil.

“Islam did not invent veiling, even though the veiling of hair (and body) is today most often associated with the Islamic tradition and the subordination of women,” said Professor Amer.

“Contrary to what many believe, the Quran does not offer any firm or unambiguous requirement to wear what we have come today to recognise as ‘Muslim dress’ or veiling.

“The Islamic fashion industry is today a multi-million dollar business and is very well established in Australia. There is also a large industry of veiled (Muslim) dolls, and of Islamic beauty pageants.”

What’s hot at the Paris Climate Talks?

Presented by Professor Tim Stephens (Sydney Law School) at The Bristol Arms Hotel

With the Paris climate talks scheduled to take place in December, the issue of climate change has rarely been as hot. In his Raising the Bar talk, Professor Tim Stephens will interrogate how global decisions are being made in the realm of global warming.

“Finally, global momentum is building for decisive action to confront the climate crisis,” said Professor Stephens.

“The question remains: will the talks in Paris will be enough to avoid the two degree Celsius rise in temperature the world has agreed to keep below? Australia has much to gain from a transition to a clean economy, and Paris represents a critical fork in the road.” 

Are you smarter than an ant?

Presented by Dr Tanya Latty (Faculty of Agriculture and Environment) at The SG Bar

The answer to Dr Tanya Latty’s confronting question may surprise you. Dr Latty said ants have brains smaller than a pinhead, yet they run complex societies complete with transportation networks, communication systems and even waste management infrastructure. So how do they do it?

“Social insects are among the most successful organisms on the planet,” said Dr Latty. “If an alien landed tomorrow and had a good look around she would almost certainly conclude that they – not us – were running the planet.

“Individual ants tend not to be particularly clever – their brains, after all, are smaller than pinheads. But by working together as a group they can do astonishingly complex things. Ants get things done by working together as a well organised team. That’s why they’re so good at raiding your picnic.”

Weeding out the myths about cannabis

Presented by Dr David Allsop (Faculty of Science) at Manning Bar

With over half the states in America having now legalised cannabis for medical purposes, Dr David Allsop will weigh up both sides of the debate to take a close look at what the future of medical cannabis might look like in Australia.

“To this day cannabis remains demonised in almost all countries of the world, still prohibited alongside heroin and cocaine, with no recognised medical purpose,” said Dr Allsop.

“Australia is grappling with the rightful place of medical cannabis in society, with a groundswell of community support rising up to challenge the status quo.

“Perhaps the most persuasive argument for cannabis comes from parents of children with intractable epilepsy who are reporting remarkable results in improving their children’s quality of life through cannabis. One such family were so convinced of the power of cannabis to treat their granddaughter’s epilepsy that they made a record donation of $34 million to the University of Sydney to once and for all nail the science to the mast.”

Bad blood: Women, danger and popular music

Presented by Dr Rebecca Sheehan (United States Studies Centre) at The Record Crate

We live in an unprecedented time when more and more female artists are soaring up the pop music charts. Dr Rebecca Sheehan said it would be naive to dismiss them as meaningless.

“The story of women and popular music is one of the relationship between an exploitative industry and the brave, talented, savvy women who have succeeded in and been broken by it,” she said.

“In a still-sexist world, women have to navigate the pleasure and danger that comes with their bids to step out of the status quo. Far from irrelevant, understanding women in pop can give us a blueprint for liberation.”

Event details:

What: Raising the Bar Sydney

When: Tuesday 20 October 2015, 6:30pm to 7:30pm

Where: Various locations across Sydney

Cost: Free, online booking required

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