The Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement center offers SideDish, a free dinner for LGBTQIA+ students to find support and community. Aileen Lambert, coordinator for LGBTQIA+ programs and initiatives, created SideDish in an effort to increase student interaction.
“It’s something that people can come to more than once,” Lambert said. “It’s also something that if somebody were to come into my office and say, ‘Hey, I just came out and I don’t know what I’m doing.’ I can say, ‘Cool. You can come to dinner in a week.’ Here you’ll meet some people and you’ll be exposed to a different environment of people.”
Each dinner takes place on Friday at 6 p.m. at the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement in the Student Union and aims to provide a space for students of all backgrounds. The first dinner of the semester was on Feb. 2, and the rest of the dinners are scheduled for Feb. 23, April 5 and April 26.
Many students, such as freshman creative writing major Christopher Woodry, find a sense of community in SideDish.
“Their dinners allow me to connect to other queer students,” Woodry said. “It’s nice not feeling alone. I also like how the dinner is free, because I am a lover of all things cheap.”
Woodry described how SideDish helps to provide a safe space within Ole Miss’ Southern culture.
“I think that Ole Miss is okay when it comes to treatment of LGBTQ+ students,” Woodry said. “I don’t think it can escape the Southern outlook on LGBTQ+ people, but I think it works as well as it can inside the framework in order to help the students.”
In creating an inclusive environment, it is important to respect boundaries, Woodry said.
“At the end of the day, I think that the best way to include more LGBTQ+ students is to just give them space,” Woodry said. “Too often, the world intrudes on the boundaries that LGBTQ+ people impose for their safety and comfort. Respecting the boundaries that LGBTQ+ (people) set up is way more inclusive than forcing them into a position they do not want to be in.”
Lambert compared expanding the cultural climate of UM to adjusting the temperature. While celebrating UM’s strong, core values, it’s important to provide a safe space for students with different interests and goals.
“I think UM has a really distinct temperature. You walk on and you know what’s really integral to the character of this university. Football is a massive part of the culture here. Greek life is a big part of the culture, school spirit and Southern pride,” Lambert said. “It’s about adjusting the temperature a little bit, so that maybe if there are places where people come in and they don’t see themselves at the Grove on a football Saturday, or they tried Greek life, and it didn’t really feel (right) for them, there are spaces or pockets or currents around campus that they can fall into.”
Lambert explained that the dinners are open to undergraduates and graduate students, and they focus on cultivating community and connecting younger students with older queer student mentors.
“I think, especially for people who have marginalized sexuality or gender identities, having connections with people who are older than you, especially when you’re just figuring out things about yourself, can be one of the most powerful relationships,” Lambert said. “It was really important for me that first year students would connect with seniors, seniors would connect with graduate students. People could recognize each other on campus, make the campus feel a little bit smaller, make it feel like you’re not on your own.”