Dining halls are loud; students enjoy talking over their meals about good grades, bad roommate situations or the dining hall food itself. Rarely will a table carry on in silence. Instead, we elect to converse. In “House of Cards,” one of my favorite shows, a particularly contemptible protagonist says this memorable line on the subject of mealtime conversation: “I’m southern, my mother taught me that dinnertime conversation is not only polite, but it aids the digestive system.”
However, since our first year at the College of William and Mary, these conversations serve less and less as a way to meet and understand someone than they do as a commentary on our routines with like-minded individuals. In other words, we naturally find those similar to us and stick with them and what we know. After a while of this, along with the natural process of growing older, we become too busy to significantly deviate from our well-worn path, and our chances of meeting new people diminish significantly.
If you have ever found yourself curious about the lives and thoughts of other students, specifically those far different from yourself, there is an upcoming chance to meet them. “TableTalk” has come to the College and will have its first event in mid-April. It is an organization with a “framework for conversations between people who would not interact under ordinary circumstances” which began at the University of Pennsylvania before spreading to peer universities like the College. Under the leadership of Sarah Jones ’20 and fellow Executive Board member Riley Smith ’21, TableTalk challenges you to join the conversation by conversing with your unknown peers. Generalized, TableTalk, Humans of William and Mary, RealTalk and other similar clubs work with two assumptions. First, they assume that it is wildly easy to never get to know people unlike you. But, in a place like the College, we are given an opportunity to know people from backgrounds and places far from our own. The second assumption is that we should attempt to meet these people who are different from us.
How is this best done? At TableTalk, the already conversational time of a shared meal is used to facilitate these conversations. Aiding both the digestive system and social interaction, a small group of people — unique in interests and backgrounds — is drawn together over dinner to allow its members to consider themselves and the issues they are involved with. TableTalk facilitators prepare for the night, a casual affair, by creating pertinent questions to stir discussion. Attending community members can even submit their own topics of discussion if they would like to explore specific subjects or common stereotypes. Over the course of an hour, questions branch from orientation-like speculations of “would you rather be a knee or an elbow?” to those more serious, on mental health or identity — made easier to converse about over free pizza. TableTalk has an expedited version as well. In mid-April, TableTalk will place a couch on the Terrace for dissimilar students to sit and say hello. Just saying hello is all that is necessary to make a new friend. The conversation takes care of itself.
At the risk of sounding too much like your Orientation Aides: be curious. Wonder to yourself what other students have experienced and what similarities you unknowingly have. Ask what you can learn from them. Ask what they can learn from you. Be curious to expand your horizons of thinking by thinking about another person’s thoughts. At the very least, say hello to someone new when you are given a chance. Get a meal with them.
Email Caleb Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org.