Student starts new Buddy Tents program in Bostwick Dining Hall

By Jessica Rafalko

Contributing Writer

Masha Zhdanova ’13 believes she has finally solved a problem that has plagued most students since elementary school: where to sit in the cafeteria. Will you seem desperate and sad if you sit at a corner table by yourself, or is solitude preferable to sitting down beside happy, smiling people you have never met before? For many, this mealtime dilemma can be as stress-inducing as a Latin midterm or a calculus final.

To solve this dilemma, Zhdanova devised the new Buddy Tents program for Bostwick Dining Hall. You may have noticed those tall laminated cubicles, designed by John Cummins, general manager of Resident Dining. Those orange- and blue-paneled structures are emblazoned with a happy bison and this tempting offer: “Please Feel Free to Join Us!They sit on some of the tables in the cafeteria, usually overturned on their sides, just waiting to be set up by students who are, as Zhdanova said, “welcoming people they don’t know well to join them for lunch or dinner.”

Zhdanova, an international student, became inspired after she spoke with fellow international students. She learned that the overwhelming feeling of isolation and awkwardness that tends to strike first-year students is universal. “They were hesitant to eat alone and didn’t feel comfortable when they were coming into the caf and couldn’t find any friends around,” she said.

Choosing to implement the Buddy Tents during New Student Orientation, Zhdanova enlisted the help of assistant dean of students Paula Myers and associate dean of students Amy Badal. She also spread the word to the orientation assistants.

John Cummins, general manager of Resident Dining, is largely responsible for the look of the tents. If you walk into Bostwick at any point during the day, you are bound to see them scattered across the tables. It may be easier for some students to approach any table, tray in hand and ask to sit down—but for those who are a bit more shy, the Buddy Tents might serve as an icebreaker.

Zhdanova envisioned Buddy Tents to be used primarily by first-years, usually the most uneasy students on campus, unaccustomed to the college environment and liable to be intimidated by the untamed jungle of food and trays, tables and students that is Bostwick Dining Hall.

As Myers put it, “Sometimes the most simple, thoughtful action, like inviting people to join you for a meal, can make the most difference in the social transition to college.” So think of the Buddy Tents as a throat-clearing of sorts, the opening line to hundreds of potential friendships that you can make over the next four years and set up camp in Bostwick Dining Hall.

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