Students and Faculty Bond Over Wed. Dinner in Temporary “UnRopes”

Overheard at Wednesday’s student-faculty dinner: a discussion of the national presidential election, a heated Commons versus Uncommons debate and stories of panty raids during the early years following Phillips Academy’s transition to co-education. Topics as bizarre as these were discussed as students and faculty families shared a leisurely dinner together with special desserts in Uncommons’s trial “UnRopes” area. The student-faculty dinner provided an opportunity to break the ice between faculty and students. Paul Murphy, the incoming Dean of Students, Instructor in Math and Dean of Summer Session said, “There’s a funny, natural barrier between faculty and students. This dinner made it so much easier for faculty and students to communicate.” Mark Efinger ’74, Instructor in Theatre and Dance, said, “I’ve heard students say that they don’t want to be eating lunch and have a teacher just sit down and start talking with them. This dinner seems to be a safe base.” The dinner’s open invitation lacked a predetermined agenda and asked for casual attire. Tantum Collins ’08, Student Council President, said, “The more casual setting seemed to make more sense, since we [Student Council] are promoting more casual relations with faculty.” Discussions at the dinner table included a variety of debates and anecdotes. Many people described how Uncommons has exceeded their expectations. Others discussed politics with a Clinton versus Obama debate. Efinger said that he noticed this presidential election is the first time polls have been so focused on demographics—for example, how many blacks will vote for Clinton or how many women will vote for Obama. Efinger went on to entertain students with his own experiences as a Phillips Academy student. He described panty raids that occurred after Phillips Academy became co-ed. “By the last few raids, nearly the whole male student body was involved in breaking into a female dormitory late at night and taking panties,” Efinger said. Students and faculty also bonded over trivia. April 14 is the day Fenway Park first opened, the Titanic sank, Abraham Lincoln was shot and Carolyn Brown ’09 was born. Carmel Rodriguez-Walter, wife of Christopher Walter, Instructor in Music, said, “These are the kinds of things you would never have found out otherwise.” Another conversation delved into a pressing question: What is an Andover student? Rachel Cohen ’08 said, “[An Andover student is] someone so well-rounded, they are practically spherical.” People also discovered facts they never knew about fellow faculty members or students. Carolyn Whittingham ’11 shared with her table, “One of my distant uncles is on the Jamaican national bobsled team, and he recently went to the Alps to practice.” Catherine Carter, Instructor in Latin, said, “It is fun to sit down with kids I don’t get to see very often and kids I didn’t know before.” Vivian Wehner ’09 said, “I enjoyed interacting with the faculty children.” Alana Rush, Community Service Teaching Fellow, said, “We made an effort to invite more families, and I think it worked out well. Faculty children add more fun to the environment.” “There was a really good turnout … No one has to go out of their way to reserve a place or dress up. Uncommons is a convenient place,” Rush continued. However, there were mixed responses toward the new “UnRopes” area. Lydia Dallett ’08 said, “It’s always a pleasure to talk with faculty, but I didn’t like the black drapes. The drapes didn’t seem very inviting, since they closed off the area into a box, and you couldn’t see who was sitting there.” Student-faculty dinners began as an initiative of former Student Council President Danny Silk ’07. Collins had worked with Silk on the student-faculty dinners and decided to continue the mission. The dinner is conducted about once a term. “The purpose of the student-faculty dinner is to create an opportunity for students and faculty to talk outside the classroom and disciplinary situations. The underlying key is to make student-faculty relationships friendlier and to make this dinner a regular function,” Collins said. Many faculty members hope to see the student-faculty dinner become a larger event. Elisa Joel, Dean of Abbot Cluster, said, “This dinner was a fantastic initiative. It is very important for students and faculty to talk and for faculty to hear more about what students feel are important.” She continued, “If the dinner were to be doubled in size, I think there would be growing interest and plenty more students and faculty willing to participate.” “I’d like to see this dinner get bigger with more participation. It takes baby steps,” Murphy said.