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At the group’s traditional Sunday dinners a free exchange of ideas is the main course.

Group dinners at McKelvy House are steeped not only in tradition but also in intellectual discussion. These interactive meals are a cornerstone of the McKelvy House Scholars Program, which was launched in 1962.

In the McKelvy program, about 20 students of high academic achievement and promise reside together in an historic off-campus house and participate in shared intellectual and social activities.

“The program promotes intellectual thought and discourse within the context of a residential environment,” says the current resident faculty adviser, Helena Silverstein, an associate professor of government and law. “Discussions foster intellectual growth, contribute to the creation of a scholarly community, and enhance the students’ ability to relate to people with diverse perspectives.”

The residents share at least two dinners a week during the semester, one on Sunday evening, the other on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Each Sunday, two or three students cook for the entire group, with each student cooking at least one meal each semester. Meals tend to get rather creative as the students enjoy the opportunity to experiment in the kitchen and gain more experience there. The faculty adviser also does her share in the kitchen.

“My husband and I cook the meal for the group once a semester,” Silverstein says. For the mid-week dinner, they usually order in – Chinese or Indian food, maybe, or pizza.

The dinner discussions, Silverstein explains, are meant to engage the students in debate and exchanges of ideas that will continue long after the meals are over. During the fall semester each year the discussions revolve around a theme. The recent theme of “changing eras” spurred such discussions as dance through the eras, which explored how certain attitudes and styles of the era were reflected in dance, and, more broadly, how one era may effect the next.

For instance, one student questioned whether the “permissiveness” of the era of the 1960s in the United States problematically affected later eras, particularly the 1980s and 1990s.

Two years ago the McKelvy group tried something different. At the beginning of the semester the students anonymously submitted five questions apiece that they would be interested in discussing. Then, each week a question or two was drawn randomly for the evening’s discussions. Silverstein commented that those talks were often “quite lively.”

In the second semester each year, the scholars take turns choosing the topic of discussion, often selecting subjects akin to the articles they are preparing for publication in The McKelvy Papers, the annual journal of writings by McKelvy Scholars.

Last spring a dozen members of the program authored articles for the 1999 edition of the journal, with subjects ranging from violence in the media to moche art to MTV to intelligent computers. Four other McKelvy scholars, all of whom had published papers in the 1998 edition, served as editorial staff.

Catriona Duncanson ’02 of Basking Ridge, N.J., is a new member of McKelvy. She says she enjoys the community-style living and the fact that “people here are willing to have intelligent discussions and debates.” In applying for the McKelvy program she had hoped to be surrounded by people who share her interests in reading and intellectual pursuits, and wanted a more family-style atmosphere than a residence hall.

“Debates and discussions are ways that we can be impacted by and included in the experiences and knowledge of others,” Duncanson says. “The group is intimate enough to attempt to understand other people and their points of view, and the events that helped to shape their opinions.”

Categorized in: Academic News