By Emily Gold Boutilier

[Social Life] For years, Jeehae Kim Goddard ’13 found the social scene at Amherst to be lacking—both in variety and in meaningful connections with new people. “I was surprised when I got here and the standard was, ‘Hey, what’s up?’” she says. “That doesn’t really lead to any conversation.” 

Then, while studying abroad at the University of Oxford, she took part in regular formal dinners with professors and fellow students. Goddard enjoyed these dinners so much that she decided to bring the concept back to Amherst.

Thus were born the Select Dinners, sophisticated meals held this spring for Amherst students of legal drinking age. With heavily orchestrated guest lists and seating charts, the Select Dinners aimed to spark discussion among students who were not already close friends, while allowing them to learn from professors in a social setting.

The third of five meals in the series took place on March 29 in Alumni House. At 7 p.m., some 55 students found their seats at seven round tables decorated with spring flowers, wine glasses and more forks than many people would know what to do with. The men wore jackets and ties, the women dresses and heels.

Hansol Park ’13, saying she’d always wished for more “opportunities like this outside the classroom,” introduced the guest speaker, Professor of Political Science Javier Corrales, who gave a 15-minute talk on U.S.-China relations. (“Don’t be nervous,” he insisted. “The 21st century is going to be the American century.”)

The students got to know their tablemates as the waitstaff poured pinot grigio and served a first course of oysters and scallops. Later came an asparagus salad, fish with morels and more wine. At one table, the discussion moved effortlessly from Corrales’ research on Venezuela, to foreign language study (one woman in the group spoke five languages), to plans for the future. A pre-med student described her lifelong desire to be an ophthalmologist—to experience the satisfaction of helping people see.

As the evening wrapped up, Jeremy Roush, executive chef at Dining Services, gave brief remarks on the food and wine pairings. He said such meals allow his staff to truly shine.

The meal allowed students to shine, as well—to dress up, to make conversation, to practice dining etiquette and social drinking. “This is kind of taking us out of our comfort zone,” said Nicholas Koh ’14. “It adds some formality to the college experience.”

On the menu at the March 29 Select Dinner

Watch Hill oyster and Nantucket Bay scallop
Young asparagus and wild arugula in Meyer lemon vinaigrette
Wild striped bass in sweet pea broth with early morels, fava beans and potato dumplings
Chocolate shortcake in a rhubarb and blood orange nage

Photo by Rob Mattson; illustration by Rosie Scott