May 4, 2012 — After five years and 60 meals, an informal dinner series organized by the University of Virginia's Office for Diversity and Equity to bring together members of the University community has reached its successful conclusion.
Since 2007, about 1,600 faculty, staff, students and Charlottesville-area community members attended the dinners, which featured Julian Bond, a civil rights leader and retiring history professor in the College of Arts & Sciences.
"I think this has been an extremely successful venture for the Office for Diversity and Equity, and to my knowledge has been the longest-running dinner series of its kind here at U.Va.," said Dr. Marcus Martin, U.Va.'s vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity, who attended 58 of the 60 dinners.
A recent gathering at a home in Charlottesville was representative of what the events aimed to achieve. At the beginning of the evening, a group of about 20 attendees – including a doctor from the U.Va. Health System, an environmental scientist visiting from South Africa, a pastor new to the area and several others, including faculty members – gathered with Bond on a porch and introduced themselves. Other than the organizers, most had never met.
"I grew up on college campuses, and it seemed that there wasn't really a place where faculty members would mingle every day," Bond said that evening. "Someone from the Engineering School might never meet someone from the French Department."
The dinners were designed to introduce new faculty members and others to Bond and each other in an informal setting, Martin said.
"We've had a very diverse group of faculty, staff, students and community members with diverse academic, civic and social interests attend the dinners," Martin said. "The dinners specifically address one of our primary goals, which is to make the University inclusive and welcoming."
The dinner hosts have ranged from area residents to senior members of the University community. Several deans have also hosted the dinner series over the years, including Dean Dorrie K. Fontaine of the School of Nursing, who hosted two.
"The chance to have Julian in our home and listen to his tales of the Civil Rights Era with faculty from across all schools has been magical," Fontaine said. "This past year in Pavilion IX we also invited several Lawn students to join the faculty. He sat right down with one student and worked on his thesis ideas and seemed completely engaged.
"Julian will be missed, but his legacy here at U.Va. is one of constant generosity of spirit. He knows the power of presence and inspiration to transform a nation, a good lesson for us all."
Dean Kim Tanzer of the School of Architecture hosted the next-to-last dinner in the series. She said it was an honor to host Bond and his wife Pam Horowitz and to facilitate cross-Grounds exchanges and friendships
"Julian and Pam were lively, inspiring participants in conversations that left us with feelings of possibility and hope," Tanzer said. "I trust the legacy established through these dinners will continue after Mr. Bond's retirement, assuring that the role he has played nationally and beyond will continue to motivate our work here at U.Va. in perpetuity."
Wynne Stuart, the associate provost for academic support and classroom management, and Vicki Hawes, manager of off-Grounds housing, hosted the final dinner in the series.
The feedback from participants has also been strong. A list of anonymous comments solicited from participants shows overwhelming support for the mission of the series.
"Beyond fellowship, which is reason enough for these gatherings, I was able to meet people from other parts of the University, which would not happen otherwise," one participant wrote to event organizers afterward. "In fact, one person is a great contact for one of my graduate students, whose research will benefit from being introduced to this person. Good food, better conversation, and a valuable opportunity."
Martin said the dinner series will continue in some form after Bond's retirement, though the format and frequency have yet to be determined.
– by Rob Seal