A group of five people sit and talk around a table.

Credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University


The Longest Table fosters connections and community

More than 120 students, faculty, and staff gathered around a single table to discuss their identities and perspectives

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted more than 120 students, faculty, and staff on Nov. 30 for The Longest Table, a new dining and dialogue experience for the Johns Hopkins community.

The meal, which was held in collaboration with Student Affairs, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the Peabody Institute, and the Whiting School of Engineering, aimed to inspire conversation between the university's different groups, encouraging students to engage with new perspectives while sharing their own identities.

"The Longest Table was an opportunity for students to come together over a meal," sais Emil L. Cunningham, assistant vice provost for diversity and inclusion and deputy chief diversity officer. "Just being able to establish those connections, in my mind, is where the excitement comes from."

Inspired by similar events at other universities, The Longest Table was attended by Krieger School, Whiting School, and Peabody students. Registration was open to all undergraduates, including those who just happened to pass by the event.

"We didn't want to be exclusive," Cunningham said. "So we had on-site registration. If you were walking by you smelled the food, you saw people engaging in some good dialogue, and you wanted to join in on the conversation, all you had to do was just take out a smartphone and register."

The event took place around one long, U-shaped table, though attendees were split up into smaller groups at random. Each group was led by a trained staff or faculty facilitator, who used pre-written prompts to spark discussion.

Attendees were encouraged to talk about their experiences at Hopkins and how their identities have had an impact on their education and/or careers. Some of the discussion prompts focused on serious questions, such as "What do you think is the biggest challenge facing JHU?" and "Where do you hope to see the university in five years?" Other prompts were more casual, sparking conversations about hobbies and extracurricular activities.

Ultimately, the event was designed to allow attendees to take their discussion in any direction they wanted, said Erin Fox, ODI's senior manager for strategic Initiatives

"The topics went far afield from what the prompts were," Fox said. "It was a really organic experience."

For example, senior Zandy Wong's table spoke extensively about both their dogs and their ideas to improve the university.

"It felt like an empowering dinner party," Wong said. "I met people who inspired me with their journeys. Hopefully I can take what I learned from their stories and enrich my Hopkins experience."

Junior Jackson Morris also said he enjoyed the event, noting that it was a good chance for students to collaborate with peers from other schools.

"The Longest Table had good people, good food, and good conversations," he said. "Our table had students from both the Homewood and Peabody campuses who were fairly involved in student leadership. We talked about ways to bring together students from both campuses."

Fox described the event as a success and hopes that other campuses will introduce The Longest Table to their students next year.

"We wanted to create an opportunity for folks to come together, bringing their different identities and unique viewpoints, and share authentically," Fox said. "I think that was the main objective of the evening, and I feel like we met it."

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Tagged diversity