Breaking bread while breaking barriers

Penn’s two newly announced programs—Conversations for Community and Dinners Across Differences—strive to encourage dialogue, build connections, and bring people together in conversations over shared meals.

Overhead image of a table set with food and diners hands and arms cutting food and and eating.
Image: iStock/Rawpixel Ltd.

As the semester begins to wrap up and the holiday season approaches, the University is launching two new programs aimed at reaffirming the sense of campus community and building and sustaining connections to one another. 

The initiatives—Conversations for Community and Dinners Across Differences—strive to encourage dialogue and bring people together in informal conversations over shared meals. 

“Our Penn community thrives on discussion, debate, conversation, and education,” said President Liz Magill and Provost John L. Jackson Jr. in a message launching the program. “We hope that these new spaces for dialogue will inspire all of us to continue the hard work of talking about our similarities and differences while reaffirming our shared values as members of the Penn community.”

Conversations for Community will fund small gatherings to discuss topics of interest over a meal. The program is open to all members of the Penn community, in groups of four to eight people, for meals at campus-area eateries. It aims to expand the mission of the existing Campaign for Community, founded in 2015, to “encourage dialogue and discussion among members of the community about issues with the potential for difference and disagreement.” Members of the Penn community can sign up to participate on the Conversations for Community webpage.

Dinners Across Difference will extend this same concept to dinners organized within one School to discuss issues of importance and interest to that School’s community. More information will be forthcoming about this initiative.

Along with these new programs, individual faculty members also will have the opportunity to host small dinners with Penn students over the coming weeks.

“Among the best parts of being a global community that draws individuals from around the world and from a wide range of backgrounds is that different people can come together to meet one another, learn from one another, and perhaps build friendships and collegiality across difference,” says Charles “Chaz” Howard, University Chaplain and Penn’s Vice President for Social Equity and Community. Howard’s office helps oversee the Campaign for Community, which offers funding and sponsorship for small-group events related to social issues and is the home of Conversations for Community.

“This is one of the great gifts of being at Penn. But it is a gift that takes effort. It doesn’t just happen,” Howard says. “These two initiatives are wonderful opportunities to help us be our best self as a University. I’m excited and will be so grateful to see members of our community reach out to each other to chat and to break bread together.”