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A Seat for Everyone at the Longest Table

By Sydney Pender

University of Mississippi

University of Mississippi students, faculty and staff meet for dinner and conversation at the 2019 Longest Table. This year’s edition of the Longest Table is set for Sunday (Oct. 2) in the Circle. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Throughout much of the University of Mississippi’s history, students such as James Meredith have been an integral part of spurring the change seen on campus today.

To honor such students and promote conversation and fellowship, the Longest Table returns from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 2) in the Circle.

The free event, in conjunction with the university’s 60th anniversary of integration, provides an opportunity for the Ole Miss community to come together for a shared meal, reflect on the past and engage in conversations about change for the future.

Cade Smith, UM assistant vice chancellor for community engagement, hopes to strengthen the university by providing a voice for diverse perspectives.

“The Longest Table welcomes students, faculty, staff and community members for food, fellowship and community building,” Smith said. “Participants connect with new people by sharing their story and considering how we can work together to create an even more inclusive and connected community.

“Our goal is for each participant to leave with a few new relationships and an even stronger commitment to build upon the legacy of James Meredith.”

At the event, 50 tables will be set up in a row in the Circle, signifying that there is a place for everyone at the Longest Table.

Arabella Hamm, a graduate assistant for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, has worked to ensure that the event fosters a safe space for open-minded individuals to feel comfortable conversing with people who have the ability to facilitate change.

“This year, we will start with these guided conversations,” Hamm said. “Everyone starts with these conversation agreements, to go around the table and read through these common conversation agreements that ensure that people are open-minded, and that you are being an active listener.

“Overall, I think that starting with having these guided discussions, and with the conversation agreements, you’re automatically creating a very safe and open inclusive place for people to speak their mind.”

The Longest Table event also is the first step in implementing the Pass It On! Initiative, a plan to find ways to create and provide small acts of kindness throughout the Lafayette-Oxford-University community.

“Once the Longest Table has concluded, we’re going to see if we can get a bunch of the participants to participate in the Pass It On! Initiative, in which we will randomly pair the participants together,” Hamm said.

“It’s just the idea that even the act of listening and meeting a new person and sitting down and hearing their story is in itself a small act of kindness. And then, after they’ve had that one-hour guided conversation, they’ll commit to another small act of kindness.”

Register for the Longest Table event here, and check out the Pass It On! Initiative.

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