What Is It?
The Dinner Table is a semester-long, prompt-based dinner program for students that seeks to:
- Magnify the vital principle that pluralism is a source of power and effectiveness;
- Promote deeper connections between people, catalyzing interpersonal alliances;
- Promote critical thinking and self-reflection;
- Expand participants’ sense that we all emerge from cultural contexts;
- Develop a nuanced understanding of the value of diversity; and
- Spark a sense of curiosity and openness in participants.
How Does It Work?
Six times each semester approximately one hundred students gather over Sunday dinner.
Over dinner, students develop and share stories in response to a previously chosen prompt such as “Fish out of Water,” “Home,” or “YOLO (You Only Live Once)” with others at their table. They then discuss the ways in which those stories influence listeners—how they spark reflection and meaningful connection. At the end of the semester, we ask students to nominate those stories from their tables that they believe the campus community should hear. Nominees are then invited to apply to be final storytellers at a public storytelling event called “Stories from The Dinner Table.”
How Are Tables Determined?
To the degree that’s possible, we seek to ensure that the broadest range of diversity is present at each table. Students are assigned to their dinner table at the beginning of the semester and remain in that group over the six dinners. Most often, tables are comprised of six to seven storytellers and two student facilitators, so a typical dinner table group is made up of between eight and nine people.
Who Can Participate?
Any enrolled student currently on campus who can commit to attending six Sunday night dinners a semester. At the beginning of each semester, all students are invited to apply. We develop our Dinner Tablers from that group, often on a first-come, first-serve basis.
How and Why Was This Program Developed?
In 2014, a group of faculty and staff identified a need on campus to provide structured spaces in which students can productively talk across their differences of experience and identity. That group sought to design a college-wide program that, in scope and gesture, supports the college’s historic commitment to inclusion and to its current-day mission statement with particular emphasis on undergirding, “the transformative power of our differences.”
Outcome data suggest that students who participate in The Dinner Table are more satisfied, have stronger social skills, and have had more meaningful, less hostile interactions around issues of race and ethnicity than do their non-participant counterparts.