The Dinner Table

In summer 2014, a small group of faculty and staff joined forces to develop The Dinner Table, a conversation and prompt-based dinner program meant to help students talk constructively across their social and cultural differences, spark friendships and alliances, and build conversation and team skills imperative to their future success in the world beyond Bates.

The program is predicated on the following format: For three months, students and student facilitators meet around the Sunday supper table (8 students per table) and share personal stories based on a prompt we provide. They then identify and discuss common themes and ideas, and in the process, learn about ways in which they are connected to their peers that may not seem obvious at first glance. The semester culminates in a public storytelling event featuring selected participants.

We implemented a pilot of the program during winter 2015, and students have embraced The Dinner Table with great enthusiasm. Watching students, their bodies leaned forward in acute attention, share stories reflecting the first prompt, “Fish Out of Water,” and later hearing from them how wonderful, surprising, and affirming the stories of their peers were, suggests that this program taps into one of Bates’ enduring treasures: our value of community. This fall, 100 students will participate in the Dinner Table. We’ll host a new cadre of participants in each successive semester so that reflective, community-based storytelling across differences becomes a signature of the Bates education.

Lingua Franca

In collaboration with a group of students who articulated a strong desire to be in conversation with their peers about major social and institutional topics, we’ve developed a new, institution-wide public forum. Lingua Franca’s goal is to provide students, staff, and faculty with a consistent, structured, and inclusive forum for exploring important social topics that impact life at Bates. Forum topics will be determined by polling the entire community.

Our goal is to retain ultimate flexibility with regard to our format for each Lingua Franca forum in order to foster effective conversations between peers. For instance, we imagine that some discussion topics will benefit from initial framing by a panel of experts in the field, and so we may host a short panel prior to breaking into small group discussions. In other circumstances, the forum may be best-suited to only small group discussion. We believe this kind of programming flexibility will allow us to best serve the community and ensure that Lingua Franca remains vital, intellectually stimulating, and a forum in which difference of opinion is nurtured, explored, and valued.