The Collegian
Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Two students propose dining hall inclusivity initiatives

<p>Apples sit in Heilman Dining Center.&nbsp;</p>

Apples sit in Heilman Dining Center. 

Two students have proposed initiatives to increase interaction among students at the Heilman Dining Center.

First-year Sherley Arias-Pimentel and junior Kevin Villagomez have met with UR Dining Services officials to discuss their proposals, “Dinner with a Stranger” and “Meet the Challenge.” 

Dining Services wants to help make the dining hall more inclusive, said Terry Baker, executive director of dining services.

“We are trying to look at it as a great opportunity to partner with students and with the community in trying to make it a more inclusive environment and encourage people to get to know each other outside of their regular habits,” Baker said.

Although both proposals have the same goal — getting students to sit with someone they have never talked to before — Arias-Pimentel and Villagomez have different visions regarding the execution of the concept.

Arias-Pimentel’s “Dinner with a Stranger” proposal would reserve a small section of tables during dinner for those who would like to participate, including faculty and students. 

“I feel like this could help a lot of people just connect the name to a face because we pass people all the time, and we never know who they are,” Arias-Pimentel said. 

Villagomez’s “Meet the Challenge” initiative would implement the same idea of strangers sharing a meal together but in a building-wide format. 

“Meet the Challenge” would be a day-long event — with emphasis on the breakfast, lunch and dinner rushes — where students would be handed tickets with different colors corresponding to specific tables as they enter the dining hall, Villagomez said. 

“We are looking towards really integrating the campus," Villagomez said. "That’s what’s been driving me to do this because I hate the fact that the first room is entirely all Greek life; the second room is entirely all athletics; the third room is just filled with everyone else."

Villagomez plans to expand his initiative to incorporate other aspects of student life such as getting to know professors, studying, and attending club meetings and events. 

“This is kind of just our pilot right now, and I was telling Terry that I would like the dining hall to be the first step in this plan,” Villagomez said.

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 Baker and Vincent Savage, interim director of residential dining, had an initial meeting with Villagomez about the program. 

“I think this is an exciting program,” Baker said.

The students’ desires to make the dining hall a more inclusive place came from previous experiences and being tired of the status quo of UR.

Arias-Pimentel said that after the racial incidents that happened in January, she had begun thinking about a weekly tradition at her high school where students had been assigned to have dinner with seven people they didn’t interact with on a regular basis. 

“Being able to connect or just seeing a familiar face leads to being able to respect people more,” Arias-Pimentel said. “So I was thinking, I loved my sit-down lunches in my high school because I got to know a lot of people that I would have not gotten to know if it wasn't for that.”

People need to be uncomfortable, Villagomez said.

“I'm kind of tired of everything that's been going on on campus, especially since I'm a minority student,” he said. “It's time for us to shock people. I think that's [what it's] really going to come down to, making people uncomfortable. Because when everyone's uncomfortable, everyone is on the same playing field.”

Arias-Pimentel received help with getting her program started from Adrienne Piazza, associate director of student engagement, who contacted Dining Services officials to discuss the idea.

“Sherley and I talked about this idea, and I grew up with the idea of that conversation around the table and family, so I loved it,” Piazza said.

Villagomez said he had talked to Dining Hall Manager Peg Peebles about his idea first. Peebles then referred him to Baker and Savage, he said.

“I got a contract with Terry and Vincent, and we sat down for a meeting and they said, ‘Let's go ahead and start planning it and let's start getting your initiative on the table,’” Villagomez said. 

Currently, there are no official dates set for the events.

Contact news editor Jackie Llanos Hernandez at jackie.llanoshernadez@richmond.edu.

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