A Table the Size of a University

Students, faculty, and staff from across the university are sharing meals—and food for thought—through the community dinner series Tufts Table

Sit down at Tufts Table, and you’ll find a spread like no other.

At the most recent gathering of the university-wide community dinner series co-sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost for Institutional Inclusive Excellence and the Tufts Community Union, students, faculty, and staff enjoyed Indian, Chinese, and Caribbean food from Chinatown restaurants—but the main course was a wide-ranging, deep-diving conversation on the topic of addressing the past to improve the future.

Invited to sit at a table where they didn’t know anyone, and guided by pairs of facilitators (one student, one faculty or staff member) trained to support respectful conversation, 80-odd attendees discussed sub-topics including connecting Tufts health care efforts across campuses and taking time for self care. Previous dinner topics include facing down hate, exclusion, and extremism; examining the need for international engagement in an increasingly fractured world community; and eliminating health disparities caused by economic, social, or environmental inequity.

Organized by a committee of students, faculty, and staff from all campuses, and hosted by different schools and departments during the academic year, the dinners began after the 2016 presidential election to bridge divides created by politics, religion, and other conflicting values. Their goal: to connect Tufts community members who might not otherwise meet and create a safe, welcoming space to talk through tough topics and share new ideas.

Tufts Community Union President Arielle Galinsky, A24, helped the Tufts Table planning committee revive the series two years ago after a pandemic hiatus, and Tyrone Reese, D25, helped organize the most recent dinner at the Tufts University School of Medicine. 

With the next dinner coming up on April 17 from 6-8 p.m. at the Joyce Cummings Center Ballrooms, on the topic of ageism in today's political and social conversation, Galinsky and Reese spoke about what makes Tufts Table special, and its power to create real change in times of division.

Why is Tufts Table important?

Arielle Galinsky, A24, at the installation ceremony for Tufts President Sunil Kumar

Arielle Gailnsky addressing attendees at the installation of Tufts President Sunil Kumar in October 2023. Photo: Alonso Nichols

Arielle Galinsky: I think it’s an opportunity to openly share ideas in a calm environment, without any fear of what the response will be. Everyone comes into the room with the mindset that this is going to be a chance to just share your perspective and absorb another’s, and we might not agree, and that is totally OK. 

And I think that is critical to understanding the diversity of perspectives that exist at this moment on our campuses. There’s no monolith of thinking—there will be different and often opposing ideas, but we can all expand our perspectives and be empathetic so we can live, learn, and work together as part of a larger community.

Tyrone Reese: There’s a lot of tension in the world—there always has been. And in medicine, we learn when there’s a lot of tension, you relieve it. If you have swelling, you cut an incision, and that makes it better. I feel like that’s what these conversations do. When there's tension, we say, “OK—let's talk about it.” We put it on the table and say, “This is what’s going on. What can we do about it? Are we adding to the problem, or are we trying to make it better?” And whether we see eye to eye or not, we can say we talked about it, shook hands, and moved on with no hard feelings.

How have people responded to these dinners?

Galinsky: We have been astounded by just the pure positive response we’ve received. Our first dinner on the Medford campus in the winter of 2022, whose topic was bridging differences between cultures and ethnicities, we had a huge turnout—about 150 people. It’s really exciting to see how many members of our community are interested in engaging and being a part of this conversation. It demonstrates the power of having these types of spaces.

Tyrone Reese, D25 speaking at the March 2024 Tufts Table event

Tyrone Reese, D25. Photo: Lisa Aileen Dragani

Reese: I think it has been really good for people to open these conversations. At the last dinner, you could see them really putting some time in and thinking before they responded. And at the end, a lot of them said they hadn’t known what to expect, but they were glad they came. They said, “These were conversations I didn’t know I needed,” and “When can we do this again?” That’s always the best feedback—when people enjoy something genuinely and thoroughly, and want to come back.

What do you hope comes of Tufts Table going forward?

Galinsky: I hope Tufts Table grows and proliferates to a point of having multiple programs every semester, to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to engage. I hope it doesn’t remain confined to the individual events, but rather becomes a norm—that it's OK to share perspectives that might be alternative to others in the community, and that people feel heard and accepted. I hope we can ensure that these aren't just one-time conversations and that we are really using the ideas that come up as a driving force to navigate the path forward.

Reese: I feel like starting these conversations, especially among students, gets people excited. It’s so easy to wait for someone else to do something, but when you’re an active participant, you feel like you can actually put your boots to the ground. You think, “I can take this and roll with it.” And that’s how change gets started.

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