When I reached the third floor of Allbritton at noon on Saturday, Dec. 1, I was showered with enthusiastic greetings and prompts to “take as much food as you want!” That was all the encouragement I needed. I took some pastries from the abundant selection of carbohydrates spread out in front of me, sat at a nearby table, and waited for my date to arrive.
A few days previously, Michaela Miller ’15 had invited me to accompany her to New Friend Day, a brunch sponsored by the Wesleyan Diversity Education Facilitators (WesDEF), Womanist House, and 200 Church. The event was advertised as an opportunity for students to interact with people whom they wanted to get to know better—a way for people to act on their “friend crushes.”
“New Friend Day started as a way to allow people to break out of their established friend groups and meet someone that they might not normally talk to on campus, or that they always wanted to get to know but never had a way to approach them,” said Cory Meara-Bainbridge ’13, a WesDEF who helped organize the event.
The Facebook event page totaled at 177 confirmed attendees. Not quite that many showed up, but a sizable group of people did arrive with friend dates in tow, pulling up chairs around about a half dozen large round tables. We chatted amongst ourselves, enjoying the free food.
My friend date was one of the many WesDEFs in attendance. The WesDEFs are a group of trained students who work to foster community dialogue on campus; in a mission statement, they define themselves as “developing space for social justice work, dialogue, and understanding.”
Typical WesDEF programs provide space for conversations about social justice and community issues. Recently, WesDEF facilitated an open dialogue about the University’s current budget constraints that centered on the question of which aspects of the University people consider most central to the Wesleyan experience. Although New Friend Day wasn’t this type of program, several WesDEFs agreed that the event still aligned perfectly with WesDEF’s mission.
“One reason I really care about WesDEFs is that it’s about community building—making Wesleyan a more cohesive community,” said Janika Oza ’15, a WesDEF who primarily does programming in 200 Church. “I think New Friend Day is just one small part of that. It’s about being willing to meet new people and bridge gaps.”
“WesDEFs has a history of being an anti-oppression group,” Miller added. “It all boils down to that core of making new friends—of connecting with people.”
About an hour into the event, we shuffled around to new tables, sitting with people we hadn’t yet met. We played a game in which each group tried to figure out if all its members shared a unique characteristic that no other group had in common. For instance, all the people in my group had curly hair, were the youngest siblings in our families, and spoke Spanish. Another group discovered that they all had parents who spoke French and worked in academic fields, among a bunch of other surprising coincidences.
“We wanted to encourage people from different social circles to meet, and I think we accomplished that,” said Julie Hsia ’14, another WesDEF. “I certainly met a lot of new people I don’t think I would have run into otherwise.”
Tara Hoda ’15, one of the attendees, enjoyed the chance to talk to people who would otherwise be strangers.
“I thought it was a great idea,” she said. “I knew some of the people I was talking to, but it provided a safe space to meet new people and play fun ‘ice-breaker’ games. I’d definitely do it again.”
Meara-Bainbridge said that more New Friend Days are indeed on the horizon.
“This is the second annual event, but we want to make it even more frequent…We plan to have many more and are also open to suggestions for specific themes or activities for the event,” she said.