The Maryland midterm election approaches, and leading the parade are several events hosted by UMBC under the umbrella of an Election Night Extravaganza. One new addition since last year is the Dinner with Friends, described on the university website as “One night. Ten dinners. One hundred guests.”
Arranged by the Student Government Association, College Democrats and Republicans and the Women’s Center in partnership with other civically inclined student organizations, Dinner with Friends will be a bipartisan experience to help promote understanding and participation in what is shaping up to be a heated political climate.
“The main focus of the dinner is to create community during elections,” explains Dr. Romy Hübler, Assistant Director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Life. The goal is to extend this beyond a students-only affair. “Oftentimes we look at UMBC as an institution — it’s a community. The media, higher education … they’ve all been telling undergrads that they need to be more knowledgeable when it comes to civic life and voting. Well, we all need to be more knowledgeable.”
As co-organizer and Executive Vice President to the SGA Vrinda Deshpande credits, “Romy actually came up with the idea. She had seen something similar in college — strangers getting together for dinner and becoming friends at the end of it. It was a good way of getting people to come together.” This is something they would like to replicate in how the upcoming election is treated on campus.
The attendees will not be political parties anymore, they will be citizens hashing things out respectfully. “Instead of immediately coming out as a Democrat or a Republican, we talk about why education reform may be important to your family. We talk about the issues themselves,” says Deshpande. The intent is to consider the questions and candidates of the election on a case-by-case basis, framed as a discussion instead of a competition and hopefully resulting in some gained understanding by all sides.
Various parts of campus will be designated for different county-specific political discussions, with one area dedicated to the city of Baltimore and another to Maryland as a whole. Dinners will occur at all locations simultaneously — ticket-holders are given the choice of which banquet to attend based on which area’s issues they would most like to cover. Everyone is equally encouraged to contribute to the conversation. Deshpande herself is a mathematics and biology major, whose career aspirations are totally unrelated to politics, and contends that “as soon as you encourage people who are not as politically centered to participate, you get everyone becoming more civically responsible. So yeah, any major, any background, any member of the UMBC community is someone we want to come.”
These local politics are relevant to all Marylanders, and not just students that happened to choose it as a field of study. “We really want a broad range of perspectives,” says Deshpande.
Past or present, student or faculty, any interested citizen of the UMBC community is welcome regardless of expertise. The dinner will take place on Oct. 26th from 6-8 p.m. and tickets are currently available through the Welcome Week section of the school website.