We recently held the last of our family style dinners for the year. We hold family style on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the fall and Tuesdays in the spring. Students sit together all at the same time, with their dormitory faculty and faculty families. Of course day students are welcome at these dinners whenever they want to stay on campus for the evening and join their friends at any table. I enjoy these dinners because of the opportunity to chat with a group of students about any number of issues. I usually sit with seniors who rotate every couple of weeks so that by the end of the year I have had dinner with most of the boarding seniors.
At the most recent dinner the students and I talked about The Great Gatsby and the upcoming movie. The students want to see the movie and had been trying to get their English teacher to arrange to take their class to the theater (the English Department is sponsoring a field trip to see the movie). It is not surprising that they want to see the movie. The book, after all, is a staple of our curriculum, as it is at most high schools across the nations. At Loomis it is part of the junior year curriculum. My dinner companions, all seniors, were skeptical as to whether any movie could do justice to the novel. The book is a masterpiece more for its wonderful prose than for its plot. It is also very timely in its depiction of the shallow superficiality of its age. I have not yet seen the movie although the reviews in the New York Times and The New Yorker suggest that it would be worth the effort. We then moved on to discuss what books they thought had made good movies, where Harry Potter and Game of Thrones were very popular.
Family style conversations generally range over a wide variety of topics from the sublime to the ridiculous—current events, dining hall food, dormitory culture, books they are reading, speakers on campus (Chris Hedges ’75 caused quite a stir.), travel plans, and future directions for the school. Some students see it as an opportunity to lobby for a new program (crew, for example) or for a change in policy. Regardless of topic, I always learn a lot and enjoy the conversation. While some schools have done away with this tradition we find it an important part of our community. Numerous studies highlight the importance of family dinners for children’s academic performance and overall well-being. Our family style dinners serve that role during the school year—times to stop during the week, take a deep breath, and connect as a community over a nice meal. These dinners help students and faculty build connections, strengthen the dorm “family,” engage us all in debate and intellectual discourse outside of class, and so much more. I look forward to seeing the students around the table again next fall.