On the Table
On the Table is designed to foster civic engagement and community action that will bring people from across the Washington, D.C., area together to discuss and reimagine the future of our communities.
Call to Action
On the Table originated in 2014 with the Chicago Community Trust, where mealtime conversations were hosted to encourage deeper commitment to the community. Since then, On the Table has been replicated nationwide, and for the first time, Kogod professor Sonya Grier brought it to American University in October 2020 in partnership with the Greater Washington Community Foundation.
The objective is to have at least 10 people seated around a table sharing both a meal and ideas about how to improve the community. The conversations aim to foster a sense of comfort and unity among the group. The tables at this event focused on American University campus themes as well as specific issues pertaining to the Greater Washington, D.C., area.
Participants each contributed to the table by bringing up issues and/or resolutions centered on one topic and opening new ways to collaborate and innovate with one another. The idea is to bring awareness to community members and their initiatives. For example, prior to engaging in conversation via On the Table, two organizations working on similar goals may not be aware of the other or how they can work together to benefit the community. The motivation is to not only raise issues and resolutions but to have members of the table leave with more connections and action items to continue to better their shared community. Having multiple tables open to participants allows this initiative to focus on one area of the community or on any topic that a host brings forward.
On the Table conversations are typically held face-to-face, though in the first semester the initiative was held via Zoom after initially being pushed back from its original date in May 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This semester's event consisted of 14 tables and engaged almost 200 participants from American University and approximately 500 to 600 people across the Washington, D.C., metro area. The event took place on October 1, 2020, with conversations held throughout the day so that community members could take part in more than one if desired. American University Kogod School of Business was the lead outreach partner and superhost for the event. This was the first time in the history of On the Table that an educational institution served as a lead partner.
Discussions focused on a variety of topics and pressing issues, such as female business owners during COVID-19, racial equity, police brutality, food sustainability, and an intergenerational approach to aging in place. Tables welcomed classes, community members, and business partners. Nonprofit business owners gained insights from faculty, while staff discussed equity with students and faculty, and all participants collaborated and set forth to continue innovating between organizations even after the tables concluded.
Objectives were to engage external partners; to host at least 10 tables, which the event exceeded; to engage faculty, staff, students, and alumni from American University, which made up about a third of the participants; and to develop a case study to highlight and memorialize the event to be used in future classroom settings.
The initiative linked faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members both on and off campus. We engaged faculty, staff, and students from Kogod as well as the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Education, and Public Health; the School of International Studies; the School of Communications; the Center for Community Engagement; the Washington College of Law; and Campus Life.
In addition to bringing together interdisciplinary faculty focused on the same topics, the tables also connected nonprofit business owners with faculty to gain new insights and prompted important discussions about equity among staff, students, and faculty. There was also a great deal of community engagement, both with the university’s surrounding neighborhoods as well as with new and established nonprofit community partners.
Following the event, the VoicesDMV Community Action Awards
were held for all of the On the Table events located in the DC area during 2020. Fifty local leaders and neighborhood-based projects were provided grants to spark change in the region. The Aging Table and Zoom Pals are examples of awarded innovations that sprouted at American University's On the Table event.