When students walk into Hill House Dining Hall, they can now grab a green flag and place it on their table to signify that anyone is invited to join them. This new "Eat & Greets" program is part of an initiative to improve mental wellness and encourage students to meet new people.
The Eat & Greets program was created last month by Penn’s Dining Advisory board, a group that brings student concerns to dining administrators. Dining Advisory Board Chair and College junior Hadassah Raskas said that while people often find themselves eating alone at dining halls, the initiative is designed to help students, and particularly freshman, meet others.
“The focus of this is about cultivating community in the dining halls,” she said. “Sometimes people are looking to have lunch with somebody else, have a great conversation, [or] meet a new person."
To implement the program, the Dining Advisory Board turned to Class Board 2022 for help with publicity and program design. College freshman Sam Strickberger, the College Co-Chair of Class Board 2022, said eating with new people can help promote mental wellness on campus.
“It’s so easy to feel lost and feel stressed,” Strickberger said. “This initiative gives you space to meet new people when going to the dining halls and promotes mental wellness.”
The Dining Advisory Board came up with the idea for Eat & Greets last semester based on feedback from students, Raskas said. The board began the initiative about three weeks before spring break and officially launched it on March 11.
While Raskas said Eat & Greets is only available in Hill's dining hall, which mainly caters to freshmen, the leaders hope to eventually expand the program and target upperclassmen as well. Dining Advisory Board representative and College sophomore Baktiar Choudhury expressed hope that having programs such as Eat & Greets will lead more upperclassmen to stay on dining plans, allowing them to get involved as well. However, Choudhury and Raskas agreed that freshmen are their current focus.
Class Board 2022 and Hill House Council collaborated to launch the initiative, along with dining administrators and Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé.
Moving forward, Choudhury and Raskas said they hope to incorporate Eat & Greets in next fall’s NSO, get more upperclassmen involved, and create a core group of committed students that can further lead the initiative.
“The potential to have a positive impact is really exciting because the idea is that we are creating a new norm, where its a norm to sit at a table with people you don’t know and start a conversation with them,” Strickberger said.