New Georgetown University program offers students the chance to eat with a diverse—and unknown—group
For many college students, formal dinners are a thing of the past. Meals in general tend to be rushed, crammed in between the club meeting, study group, and piles of homework. Eating alone is not uncommon.
But now there’s a group that aims to change this. Or, at least there is at Georgetown University, where a group of students has started a fad called Dinner With 7 Strangers, or DW7S for short.
How it works
The purpose of the group is pretty much just what it sounds like. Students are randomly placed with six other members of the Georgetown community (colloquially known as Hoyas), and the seven people sit down for dinner and conversation together. They could be students, professors, administrators, staff—anyone with a Georgetown e-mail address.
The group’s only agenda is to bring community members together, so there’s no time limit, and no set topic of discussion for the dinners (although the group’s administrators offer topics of conversation on their blog to try to avoid too many moments of awkward cricket chirping in the background).
And because free food is the key to a popular college event, DW7S also makes sure that diners don’t have to pay for the experience. The group depends on Georgetown community members to serve as hosts for the dinners. Hosts are given a stipend for the food but are expected to cook.
Everyone wants to be accepted, and the Dinner With 7 Strangers program was designed with this in mind. It’s also a place where Georgetown members can make unexpected connections, taking a break from their daily routines to talk about the world with others.
According to the Georgetown blog Vox Populi, “DW7S stands in contrast to the often exclusive and competitive clubs on campus. There is no application or screening process: anyone who signs up will have the opportunity to try out the experience.”
One of the group’s founders, Lexi Cotcamp, was profiled in a Washington Post piece, where she pointed out that social life at Georgetown is often heavily dominated by organizations with rigorous application processes. This means that people can get easily excluded from these groups.
While it’s human nature to stay with a group of friends once you’ve established them, Cotcamp also noted how easy it is to get accustomed to a certain group of friends and seldom talk to other people. DW7S aims to change that by placing people with others that they may not have met or may not know that well.
“It means getting to know those who aren’t like you rather than those who are,” Cotcamp says, before acknowledging that “it means confronting the embarrassing, the inconvenient, and the awkward.”
Because the premise of the group fits so well with the adventurous spirit of starting college, the group is able to tie their purpose back to the purpose of Georgetown.
“We didn’t come to Georgetown to stay within the confines of our comfort zone,” the group writes in their blog, “To engage in the inherent tensions of Georgetown is to truly experience what it means to be a Hoya.”
A campus hit
So, has the whole possibly-good-but-also-possibly-really-awkward dinner idea worked? According to the group’s website, it has. They self-report that they’ve had over 500 dinners and 900 signups.
The events of each dinner are likely as diverse as the people who attend them, but at a recent dinner attended by the Washington Post, the conversation ranged from poetry to Katy Perry to résumés to stress-busting tips handed from one student to another. The dinner even included a spontaneous rendition of an Etta James song by a freshman!
The final twist on this funky new tradition is its founders, who commonly refer to themselves as “we” in their blog posts but otherwise refuse to reveal their identity, the exception being Cotcamp, who did in the Washington Post piece. (But hey, if the Post offered to profile me, I’d definitely spill the beans on any secret identities I had as well.) It adds a layer of mystery to the process that mixes somewhat oddly with the proposal for what is essentially a family dinner, but it also keeps interest in the group at a high.
The founders used a blogpost to address their anonymity: “We’re anonymous because it protects against the inherent biases we have as humans and as Hoyas. Biases toward organizations, individuals, and even institutions.”
The founders plan to pass the responsibility on to other anonymous organizers as they graduate, although how they plan to notify and train their successors isn’t clear. What is clear is that the founders plan to both continue their tradition and to evolve as a group in the years to come.