“I love the Pit” is not what you usually hear from Wake Forest students.
However, senior Barrett Redmond says it regularly and with utmost sincerity. She loves the dining hall’s sense of community and its “mixed bag of people.” However, many students don’t go for the “mixed bag,” choosing instead to eat with friends that they already know. Redmond is trying to change this.
In early November last year, Redmond and two friends, Sophia Dodd and Courtney Ergen, started an initiative called “Dinner with 7 Strangers” at Wake Forest. It was modeled after a similar program at Georgetown University.
Participants who signed up online were randomly grouped with six other people to eat a dinner together. And now, thanks to funding from Wake Forest’s Center for Global Programs and Studies, participants can not only get to know a wider range of students, but also eat for free.
Redmond, Dodd and Ergen felt the need for “Dinner with 7 Strangers” at Wake Forest because Greek life and sports tend to separate Wake Forest students, similarly to how exclusive clubs at Georgetown divide students into niches.
“Not that our campus is totally divided, but once you find your niche you stick to your niche,” Redmond said. “By the end of senior year, nobody’s looking for a new best friend. Everybody’s all friended up.”
The initiative started out as their “Legacy Project” for a business school leadership course, but the three seniors independently decided to implement it outside of class, even without the free food incentive. Before even taking the class, Redmond had applied in the spring 2016 for an entrepreneurship grant for “Dinner with 7 Strangers,” but was turned down because it was for a campus initiative, not a start-up business.
However, when Sandra McMullen in the Center for Global Programs and Studies read the Old Gold & Black article last November that featured “Dinner with 7 Strangers,” she met with Barrett and her team to discuss possible funding.
“I was very struck by the purpose of “Dinner with 7 Strangers” and how it could dovetail nicely into our office’s efforts to foster cultural understanding on campus,” McMullen said.
Instead of requiring the participants to pay $5 for each meal, students can now sign up for “Dinner with 7 Strangers” at no charge.
“We wanted it to be a really inclusive thing, but having to pay $5 doesn’t make it as inclusive,” Redmond said. “It kind of goes against everything that we’re trying to do.”
Although Dodd and Ergen are very involved with the initiative, Ergen admits that Redmond was the mastermind behind it all.
“Barrett really is the brains, but also the heart behind everything,” Ergen said. “It makes it easy to work with her and want to get things done when you see how much she cares.”
Redmond discovered the power of grouping strangers together while working for Outdoor Pursuits, a program that takes Wake Forest students on outdoor trips.
“I feel as if the trips are almost little microcosms of Wake Forest and it’s been so awesome to see all these different types of people interacting and getting along,” Redmond said. “I thought that more people need to experience that.”
Redmond also started the Instagram account “pitstagram_wfu” in September of 2014, which now has over 1,000 followers. The account features pictures of creative dishes that Redmond makes at the Pit.
“Everyone always complains about the Pit,” Redmond said, “but look how many fresh ingredients are there that you can mix up and make something really awesome and beautiful out of.”
Now, instead of mixing up ingredients, Redmond is using “Dinner with 7 Strangers” to mix up people.
“Everyone complains how everyone’s so segregated but they don’t do anything about it,” Redmond said. “I really like just doing things. I get tired of talking.”
Despite the apparent social segregation on campus, there is no lack of enthusiasm for getting to know strangers. When Redmond first launched “Dinner with 7 Strangers,” 75 people signed up within the first two days.
“This is something people really want to do,” Redmond said. “I just feel like they didn’t know how to do it before.”
Redmond is a Business and Enterprise Management major with a concentration in Nonprofit Management, and a double minor in Studio Art and Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise.
“[Dinner with 7 Strangers] has been a really cool way to apply the culmination of my education here at Wake Forest and give back in a really small way,” Redmond said.
Since she and her co-founders are seniors, Redmond is looking for someone passionate to take over “Dinner with 7 Strangers” when she leaves. She is also looking for a job for after graduation, but she does not want just any job.
“I want it to be something that gives back to somebody else,” Redmond said. “It’s hard to find an entry level position like that. I’m very picky, which I guess is a good thing. Not a picky eater. But I’m a picky experiencer.”