Community Dinners: An open discussion on diversity and inclusion

Allegra Gold, Contributing Writer

Community dinners at the University are a monthly opportunity for students, staff, and faculty to convene outside of the classroom and develop meaningful connections through cultural and intellectual conversations. The first community dinner took place in November 2014, and have been a staple at the University ever since.

The dinners, which are funded by the President’s Diversity Council, are intended to facilitate an inclusive campus community, understand the needs and the desires of the community, and discuss ways to better our campus environment. In addition, community dinners give students, faculty, and staff alike the platform to address any institutional concerns. According to Diversity & Inclusion Fellow Dr. Carmen Henne-Ochoa, the community dinners are part of a broader Diversity Plan, which seeks to “develop and maintain a campus climate in which embracing diversity is a core value enacted by all members of the Bucknell community.”

Each dinner is hosted by a different campus group, which does not have to be an official organized group, but rather any interested group of people who identify a specific topic for conversation centered upon diversity and inclusion.

“It was a memorable experience. It was great to talk to people I wouldn’t usually interact with otherwise. I think the dinner definitely embodies its name, in the sense that it really does bring together so many people, and lets you understand the beliefs of those that you share the campus,” Katie Westrum ’19 said.

The dinners are prided on being discussions instead of presentations, allowing community members to learn from each other, include all voices, and pass on those values and ideas throughout the greater community.

Through these discussions, the University hopes to maintain a strong cultural component and help students develop a strong voice which will contribute to an ongoing discussion. Community dinners were first established at the University two years ago, and the inspired idea originated from a University alumnus.

“In overseeing the dinners, I work with student hosts and their faculty/staff advisor to identify and refine diversity-focused topics and to generate provocative, difficult, and meaningful questions for conversation; I provide guidance and critical feedback in terms of the content and the format for the conversations, and, I promote the dinners across campus,” Henne-Ochoa said.

By being student-run and student-led, community dinners allow the greater student community to feel empowered in their opportunity to share ideas and express themselves, while the faculty simply participate, listen, and act as resources to help and become involved.

“The dinner I attended was for student-athletes and it discussed how race has impacted our lives in different ways. The dinner was really interactive and and I learned a lot about different perspectives and the experiences of other athletes from our discussions,” Lucy Herring ’19 said.

The Diversity Summit community dinner, titled “Breaking Gender,” featured a hands-on approach to gender distinctions and was attended by more than 150 individuals.

“I thought that the community dinner provided an awesome opportunity where participants were really able to experience how gender biases affect individuals in day-to-day life. It was really great to then open this experience up to a discussion where many shared how this experience made them feel and how this social experiment parallels with everyday life,” facilitator Reid Sanchez ’18 said.

Community dinners provide an experience for all of the University community to come together and discuss relevant topics within society. Future community dinners will continue to promote involvement with efforts to increase awareness of important issues.

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