The Oaks tradition of neighborhood dinners

The Oaks Neighborhood has had a long standing tradition of hosting neighborhood dinners.

Oaks neighborhood dinners are an opportunity for residents to engage in conversations with faculty, staff and other members of the Elon community around topics related to the neighborhood’s theme of Emerging Adulthood.

The tradition was started by Assistant Professor Julie Ellison Justice, who served as Oaks faculty director from 2015-2018. While many neighborhoods host various neighborhood dinners for their students, the Oaks tries to make theirs feel like dinner parties. Faculty and staff from across campus, as well as community members, are invited to attend and have informal conversations  regarding topics from voting to mental health to financial literacy to social media. The conversations are guided by discussion questions but also informal and resident-led, so each table has a very different conversation.

Image from a neighborhood dinner from 2019.

Oaks Community Director Trianne Smith said she hopes students gain new information from these dinners that they carry with them into classes and then apply to real life.

“I love when we can partner with other neighborhoods for these events,” Smith said. “The conversations are great when the students have the opportunity to mingle with others from across campus.”

In past years, the Oaks has partnered with other neighborhoods to provide different perspectives. Aside from other students, Oaks residents have spoken with local candidates running for Alamance County commissioner, Elon faculty and staff, and professionals from the Town of Elon. The opportunity to openly discuss topics and speak with experts in various areas allows students to explore new opinions and express their own.

Smith and Oaks Faculty Director Colin Donohue plan the dinners, and they work with apartment managers to compose questions for residents to use as conversation guides. The focus of the dinners keeps the neighborhood’s theme of Emerging Adulthood in mind by allowing residents to form their own opinions and see how they can use their knowledge in many ways.

“The Oaks neighborhood dinner is one of my favorite on-campus events because of how nicely it marries the intellectual and the social,” Donohue said. “It’s meant to be laid back, so that students have the opportunity to connect with faculty and staff over a meal and meaningful conversation.”