Tired of eating at 1920 Commons in silence, awkward elevator rides and the rush of unfamiliar faces down Locust Walk? TableTalk, which started at Emory University in fall 2014 and came to Penn last semester, hopes to increase interactions among Penn’s diverse student body.
“Penn is marketed as the most diverse school, but when you get here there isn’t really a framework or a way to foster diverse student relationships, and I find that TableTalk is filling a void at Penn by encouraging people to reach out to others and meet other people who are different,” said College junior Sophie Beren, founder and president of the Penn chapter of TableTalk.
“Once you hit second semester [of freshman year] or sophomore year, not many people are trying to reach out anymore or find new circles — everyone is pretty set and content — but I hope that TableTalk will be able to break down that stigma that you aren’t allowed to keep branching out,” Beren said.
The club’s newest initiative unique to Penn — #TableTalkTuesdays, which launched yesterday — hopes to create a community of discussion in Penn dining halls. Participating students sat together in Commons and discussed a topic, this week’s topic being “The Penn Culture.”
#TableTalkTuesdays will be held every two weeks in a different dining hall.
“A lot of people grow and a lot of people learn from meeting new people ... and TableTalkTuesdays are a way for different people to come together over a topic and to just learn a lot from one another,” Beren said.
Tables were covered with butcher paper, so diners could write down their thoughts or what they discussed.
Approximately 100 students signed up for the event yesterday.
In 2015, Penn Dining has also worked with various other student groups, like Penn Environmental Group, to give out reusable water bottles, and Swipe Out Hunger, to educate students about food inequality.
“It takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of money and it takes a lot of people out of their typical routine to work with students like this, but everyone gets very excited about it because [Penn] Dining is supposed to be about and wants to be about community,” said Pam Lampitt, director of Business Services.
“We’re more than just food — we’re here to build community. TableTalk is a community-engaging endeavor, and it became apparent that what TableTalk is doing is not too dissimilar with what Dining wants to achieve ... so we were happy to support the club financially and to give them a place to hold their talks,” Lampitt said.
TableTalk also has three other initiatives designed to foster student interaction and discussion.
“TableTalks” brings two disparate student groups together to share a meal and to better get to know one another. Groups that have signed up for TableTalks include Active Minds, College Republicans and Penn Shabbatones, among others.
Passersby may have noticed “CampusCouches” set up on College Green in September, a second program by TableTalk that aimed to bring Locust Walk-ers closer together.
And “LookUp” hopes to cure the students’ addiction to their phones by using discussion placements and clear plastic containers to store phones in dining halls, encouraging diners to look up and talk to one another. According to Beren, placemats should be introduced into several dining halls in October.
Members of TableTalk hope that their programs will help students make connections with their peers.
“With all the mental health issues coming to the surface at Penn in the past few years, it’s really important just to have that outlet for students to come together and know one more face, and to talk to someone and to feel supported,” Beren said.
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