For students, Philosophy Club offers safe space

The three-year-old club’s membership has grown to about 30 members in total.

Aaron Job

After taking an introductory philosophy course as a University of Minnesota freshman, Akshay Patke felt the school was lacking a space to ask about life’s big questions.

After talking with several faculty members who told him there was no philosophy club at the University, he decided it was best to take matters into his own hands.

Since he founded the group in 2013, its membership has surpassed single digits and become an approved Student Unions and Activities group with about 25 to 30 regular members, most of who are not philosophy majors, Patke said. The group is meant to foster discussions about the fundamental natures of knowledge, reality and existence — and watch some movies with friends along the way. 

“I don’t really think myself or a lot of the other officers can really imagine not having some sort of philosophical discussion group in their lives,” Patke said. “Being around other people who are able to engage in these questions that we always ask ourselves and think about. It’s really cool.”

Blongsha Hang, the club’s vice president and only member majoring in philosophy, said students’ majors in the club range from English to bio-chemistry, and there have been several graduate students.

“I really do appreciate it because for me, being the one who studies philosophy and is indoctrinated in the papers that do not make sense, it’s just nice to hear a different perspective on what is philosophy,” Hang said.

At weekly meetings, Patke said group members pick discussion topics, which range from classic philosophical questions to the analytical breakdown of literature. 

“Last week, we talked about this thing called semiotics, which is this whole thing in linguistics about symbols and understanding their meaning. We talked about how photographs represent things and how a gesture represents saying hello, and such things,” he said. “We also have a bit more accessible topics like pain and suffering, and how pain and suffering are necessary to have happiness.”

The group also watches and discusses movies. Most recently, Patke said, the group screened “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and explored the connection of memory, emotions and happiness — a major theme of the movie. 

Patke said sometimes the club goes on camping trips, which are open to anyone and let people “do philosophy with nature.” 

 “The goal of the club was to make philosophy something that was more accessible, not just an academic discipline. … It’s just something where you can sit down and just have a conversation with someone,” Patke said. 

For Hang, who has been involved with the group for about a year and a half, the club serves as a “safe haven.”

“The majority of my friends are from philosophy club. Maybe they’re not my closest friends, but they are there and people I can talk to,” Hang said. 

The club meets Wednesdays from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. in Folwell Hall.