Now in its ninth year, Dinner with Strangers (D12) continues to build a stronger university community. As part of the program, U of T students attend a dinner party hosted by a U of T alumnus or alumna.
The program is run jointly by the University of Toronto Alumni Association (UTAA) and the Office of Alumni Affairs.
Barbara Dick, assistant vice-president, alumni relations, said that, since the program’s inception it has led to many lasting friendships and mentorship-type relationships between alumni and students.
The program started in 2006 with five dinners, and now regularly exceeds 30 events annually. It has also expanded to more than just dinners, with alumni choosing to host a range of events including nature hikes and games nights.
The cost of each activity is generally covered by the alumnus or alumna who volunteers to host it. Larger events, such as the annual holiday party at Hart House Farm receive limited sponsorship.
Attendance is free and open to all current students and recent graduates. Students who sign up for the program are sent invitations to multiple events, from which they then choose according to time, location, and activity.
U of T is not the only — or the first — school to have launched this sort of program. The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) launched its Dinner for Strangers program in 1968. In 2012, UCLA alumni hosted 304 dinners, with over 3,400 student participants.
Ohio University, University of Winsconsin, and Emory University also run similar programs. Within Canada, however, U of T is currently the only major university to have a D12 program.
Cindy Ross Pedersen, president-elect of the UTAA, has hosted dinners for five years. She said bringing students together through conversation and food fosters friendships and makes the university more welcoming.
“At these parties, we exchange stories, we cook together, I do some mentoring, and the students offer each other advice,” said Pedersen. “Each dinner is the same and different,” she added.
Naveeda Hussain, a third-year student, said the program offers opportunities for student to create a more intimate involvement with the university community. “It’s a way to put faces and names to an intimate group of people amidst the overwhelming hoard of people that is U of T,” said Hussain.
Dick added that the program provides benefits to alumni participants, as well as students. “It also gives members of the University’s 530,000+ alumni community a fun way to give back and make a direct impact on the student experience,” she said. Besides participating in the program, Dick said, alumni participate in the university community through volunteering, mentoring, and supporting student scholarships and financial aid.
“Alumni, being former students themselves, care a great deal about the university,” Dick said.