Gephardt Institute holds “Longest Table” event to foster civic engagement
The Longest Table, a two-hour event where participants were given the opportunity to discuss a variety of topics, share their past experiences, and present visions for the future, was held by the Gephardt Institute for Civic Engagement on Mudd Field this past Wednesday.
The event was the brainchild of Civic Cafe graduate assistant Eric Jones and was open to all members of the WashU community. Similar “Longest Table” events have been held at other Universities and in towns across the country.
Many political discussions transpire at dinner tables around the nation each evening — the intention for The Longest Table was to “bring together people with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and interests not just to share a meal, but to envision ideas for social change and build relationships that support working towards a shared vision.”
Attending the event was a valuable experience for each of the attendees I talked to. Discussions at my table were free-flowing and constructive, relying little on the prompts assigned. Topics shifted from global conflicts to hyperpartisanship to the perils of technology, with each tablemember providing anecdotes of personal experiences while snacking on enchiladas and quesadillas.
“I think the biggest takeaway was the fact that even though we all came from different walks of life and have had different experiences, we share the same core values of wanting a better future,” said freshman attendee Asmaa Hassan. Discussion also shifted onto “how certain aspects of what is going on today in the world are helping or hindering us [from these goals].”
The event was facilitated by a number of community members, including Trish Gomez, an associate director in the Office of Institutional Equity and a facilitator for WashU’s “Dialogue Across Difference” course. Gomez said, “I think the tailored questions that brought out dialogue across the identities of the students was super helpful. The organization and the general thoughtfulness of the whole Gephardt Team… It’s a big event to pull off, and I think they really were successful in their first annual event.”
When asked if she would facilitate future Longest Table events, Gomez responded with an enthusiastic yes. “Just getting to hear the different experiences and generational differences we could hear in the conversations was really neat, [especially in] talking about the future.” The Gephardt Institute plans to make the Longest Table an annual event, although there are currently no announced plans for a second date.