Whether they are from the Bay Area or 5000 miles away from home, Stevenson students can grip a sense of community by having a warm meal together. Monday night dinner is a boarding program held once a month where resident students and faculty gather around a table and have a formal dinner together. Monday night dinners had to be paused due to COVID-19 the past couple years, and it had made a return this 2022 - 2023 school year.
“The biggest goal of Monday night dinners is to bring the community together,” says Lucy Stockdale, the Director of Residential Life. This old tradition of sharing meals creates an environment for students to feel comfortable and included in their community. Monday night dinner also teaches students how to sit down in a formal-style dining room using proper table manners without the disruptions of phones. Opposed to normal dinners, the dining hall offers nicer Stevenson-themed plates, tablecloths, and better quality food which sets a tone of formality and courtesy. Stockdale says these touches turn a meal into an event that feels different from ordinary meals:
“Students come in and out to the dining hall, trying to get some food as soon as possible, or sometimes just there for dinner check-ins. Often times students are on their phones, not engaging with the people around their table, which does not feel as intimate as a community.”
Because of the random assigned seating in Monday night dinners, students have a chance to connect with different people and learn how to engage in somewhat awkward conversations that teach them how to engage and socialize with new people. Stockdale believes that “these layers of practice will translate into students’ lives going forward from this time spent sharing a meal together.”
Assigned seatings force students to meet new people. This may have a noble purpose, but there are controversial opinions on it from students. Melody Cai, a senior, shared her remembrance of the first Monday night dinner she attended her 9th grade year: “It was quite intimidating as a 9th grader since everyone around the table was older and were likely to already know each other.” While Monday night dinners are a great chance for students to meet new people and get to know one another, people who are new to the community might feel frustrated and confused encountering the new school tradition. Regarding this aspect, Melody stated, “It feels weird but also fascinating that I am now a senior who can help navigate students who are not familiar with Monday night dinners and pass on the school tradition.”
Formal dress is always a hot topic among students when it comes to Monday night dinners. Julian Weinstein, an incoming 9th grader who just recently had his first Monday night dinner experience, expressed his opinion on formal dressing accordingly: “I like the idea of dressing formal because first, it is fun, second, it gives a change within a normal dinner routine, and third, it feels good to look nice.” From a different perspective, Lydia Yu stated, “We have to update our Monday night dinner dress code and I heard some ideas of possible changes but it is still yet to happen.” She also pointed out, “Since Monday night dinners only happen once a month, I do not think it is such a hassle to dress formally, especially right after sports schedules.” Regarding this topic, Stockdale stated that, “We are trying to move on from the gendered dress code ever since COVID-19: not too gender-oriented but appropriate formal dressing.”
Many times, Monday night dinners incorporate a theme or celebration to the meal or the activities that follow after dining. Stockdale explained the process of getting ready for the monthly event: “We intentionally make sure about being aware of any big and small celebrations. For example, I met with Stevie and Harrison who are the Jewish affinity group heads for the Rosh Hashanah dinner. They provided me what kind of food they would eat and I passed that along to Flik. These kinds of occasions also apply the same for Lunar New Year and other celebrations.” Appreciating different cultures’ holidays and celebrations help to build an inclusive and integrative community. Other than setting a cultural theme for the night, Monday Night Dinners also bring up small but important celebrations such as birthdays of the month and other announcements.
Monday night dinners are an antique and unique tradition of a boarding school and are crucial in developing the sense of community and family to students and faculty. So many connections and conversations come across the dinner table along with sweet laughters.