When Shaine Leibowitz, SEAS ’16, and Jason Williams, SEAS ’16, sat down for dinner at John Jay Wednesday night, they didn’t know that they would walk away from their meal as newly added Facebook friends.
The two first-years got to know each other at the John Jay Community Table, a new initiative designed to encourage students to make new friends at dinner.
The table is run by Columbia Dining and first-year representatives from the Columbia College Student Council and the Engineering Student Council.
The idea was proposed by Jonah Belser, CC ’16 and a member of the class council’s policy committee.
“I noticed that during NSOP, everybody got together and ate together, but a lot of times after that, people tend to eat with their close friends, and, in my opinion, limit their social experiences,” Belser said. “The community table is intended to remedy that situation and encourage people to meet others who they otherwise may not get to interact with.”
Belser and class representative Peter Bailinson, CC ’16, approached Dining with the idea to reserve a round table in John Jay during evening meals Sunday through Thursday. The initiative started on the first day of classes.
Although the table is meant for students of all years and schools, Bailinson, who is also a Spectator development associate, acknowledged that people eating in the dining hall are more likely to be first-years. The only rule regarding the table is that a student may not sit at the table with any more than two existing friends, in part to encourage students to branch out and dine with students who they may not already know.
Belser said that “the roundtable experience” encourages new interactions between students, although Bailinson said they might experiment with different placements of the table and a variety of shapes and sizes.
In its first week, the table has not been very well attended, students said. In three visits to the table this week during meal times, it was usually empty.
“It’s hard to get those first two people to come and sit down by themselves,” Bailinson said. “We’re trying to get our councils to really sit at the table and bring one or two of their friends.”
The councils “have not really launched an advertising campaign,” Belser said. “Only CCSC friends are really aware of it right now.”
Leibowitz, who came to the table by herself, said, “It just seemed interesting, and I wanted to try it.” Williams, on the other hand, sat down because he noticed a few of his friends were sitting there.
Aaron Johnson, CC ’14, recommended a few changes while he sat at the table.
“It’s too close to the cash register, so it makes you feel like you’re on the spot,” he said. “They should use a bigger table, so it feels all communal and stuff.”
However, Johnson said he appreciated the initiative. “There need to be more things on campus where you don’t need to be a part of this club or this scene or that thing,” he said. “I really expect to leave this table with all sorts of new friends.”
Chiara Gilbert, CC ’16, who decided not to sit at the table, said that the initiative could benefit from advertising and “maybe a game to help break the ice.”
Matt Sheridan, SEAS ’16, said he noticed the promotional effort from the council. “Both two times I sat at the table, there was a CCSC person sitting here just to promote it,” Sheridan said. He added that he likes the current location of the table, immediately next to the cashier. “If I have a friend sitting there, I can’t not see them, so it attracts spontaneous interaction,” he said.
But he noted that one of his friends got up and dashed away when Spectator photographers approached the group, in an attempt not to be associated with the table.
Dining, CCSC, and ESC plan to evaluate the initiative after four weeks, but will continue it for the semester should it prove successful.
“We’ll look to the first-year councils to evaluate and determine the course of the initiative, and we’ll continue to support their initiatives as best we can,” Victoria Dunn, director of Dining Services, said in an email. “If expanding the table to another location makes sense, we would recommend JJ’s Place, which offers more seating options over Ferris Booth Commons.”