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Club Nom hosts first dialogue at Cloister

Club Nom, an initiative started by Hannah Rosenthal ’15 to facilitate dialogue between upperclassmen in eating clubs and those in other eating options, held its first event at Cloister Inn on Wednesday.

The initiative will hold 10 dialogues in each of the participating clubs this semester. Each dialogue is centered on a big question, and invites 10 students from the host club and 10 students from other clubs and dining options to discuss it. The question at the first meal on Wednesday was, “What do we choose to ignore?”

Utsarga Sikder ’15 attended the first event at Cloister and said that he generally enjoyed the fact that the event let him interact with people he didn’t know before.

“It was really like social groups that I’m not a member of, and a lot of the people in it I had never met before, didn’t really know too well, so it was nice meeting a whole bunch of new people,” Sikder said. “I felt pretty comfortable expressing whatever I thought.”

Rosenthal said this idea of bringing people together is what the dialogues are all about.

“If we could get together and have a conversation about race or class, or something, and that would be very touchy and controversial, because it has a very explicit goal to it,” Rosenthal said. “But in creating a dialogue about a very general topic, something that everybody can relate to, you can engage in a conversation that isn’t intimidating and actually build friendship.”

As one of five Hillel fellows for the national organization Ask Big Questions, Rosenthal is required to hold five dialogues as a part of the fellowship. The other four Princeton fellows, Rachel Shuman ’15, Vicky Quevedo ’15, Molly Dwyer ’16 and Elliott Eggan ’14, have also hosted a variety of dialogues this year. The fellows receive funding from Ask Big Questions.

“The goal is to choose two groups of people who aren’t usually in contact with each other, and then facilitate a dialogue about one of these broader questions,” Rosenthal said. “Because mealtime is the crux of socializing on campus, I figured that would be the most convincing way in which to get students to participate. It’s a free meal, fully funded.”

The idea behind Club Nom, Rosenthal said, came from a common complaint that students have about eating clubs — the complaint that students in clubs often don’t get the chance to interact with friends outside of their club.

“Being able to finally follow through with my goals is exciting for me, and to have people on board … It’s very informal, it’s not intimidating at all,” Rosenthal said.

To plan the dialogue, Rosenthal attended an Interclub Council meeting last fall, where she pitched the idea to the 11 eating clubs. All but Cottage Club signed on, though some clubs took longer than others to join.

Club Nom also helps the clubs meet their educational requirements, Rosenthal said, so that they can retain their status as 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations and continue to get Princeton Prospect Foundation funding.

“We’re kind of like a consultant for the clubs, helping them with their educational [requirements]” Rosenthal said.

Club Nom is not the first dialogue Rosenthal has held on campus. As a fellow at the Carl A. Fields Center and a member of the board of Black Men’s Awareness Group, Rosenthal worked to facilitate a Black-Jewish dialogue last year at the Center for Jewish Life. Recently, she organized a “Soul Food Shabbat” dinner, which she said about 200 students came to. Rosenthal also hosted a series on race, ethnicity and identity at Wilson College last spring.

“I love dialogues. I feel like there’s so much you can learn from engaging in a conversation with people you’ve never met before, with people from different backgrounds,” Rosenthal said. “It builds friendship very easily, and the point is to be a safe confidential space.”

Rosenthal said she hopes to see the project through to its end and continue next year with all 11 eating clubs on board.

“My vision is to successfully lead 10 dialogues this year, and then hopefully next year continue to pursue the project, and also get Cottage on board, so that we can have 11 dialogues with very diverse populations,” she said. “If I’m somehow able to impact 20 kids in every dialogue, 200 kids is, you know, a fair number of students.”

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