At Dartmouth, Eat and Meet
Red Cups Signal Sociability
Dartmouth sophomore Diana Salsbury grabbed a red “social cup” before sitting down with classmates Nicole Hedley, left, and Adam Tong in the Class of 53 Commons earlier this week. The dining hall is offering the cups as a way for students to signal their willingness to meet new people. “It’s just to say I’m a personable gal,” said Salsbury who was trying out the red cup for the first time. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
A stack of red “social cups” is available near drink stations in Dartmouth’s Class of 53 Commons as a way for students to signal they want to meet people at meal time. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Hanover — A Dartmouth College dining hall this month began offering red plastic cups to students who want to send a green-light signal of sociability.
Chris McMillan , a Dartmouth senior, came up with the idea of the so-called “social cups” at the end of last term, and the red cups were placed near soda fountains in the Class of 1953 Commons dining hall during the first week of April.
The idea is that students use a red cup to indicate that they are open to meeting and eating with others, as well as willing to be approached by strangers.
McMillan said that the project is not a blind dating service nor catering to those who are lonely. Rather, the social cups are intended to build a greater sense of community at Dartmouth.
“The social cups are more of an opportunity, not a social crutch,” McMillan said. “Assuming that this program is for lonely, awkward people is dependent on social norms the program is trying to reject.”
McMillan said he is seeking to build a sense of community at Dartmouth through the social cups because it will encourage students to approach their classmates in any setting, not just in the classroom.
“People don’t acknowledge their classmates, which I think is unfortunate and reflects that our community is not a very close one,” McMillan said. “I believe it will be refreshing to create a place where people can approach one another.”
However, McMillan does not blame Dartmouth for its student culture and its subsequent social norms.
“It’s not institutional, but a culture that is passed down,” McMillan said. “Dominant campus culture is not specific to Dartmouth; every campus is cliquey to some extent.”
Pauline Lewis, a Dartmouth first-year student who has grabbed a red social cup two or three times, said that though she has yet to meet anyone while using them, she believes the idea behind them is “cute and enthusiastic.”
“I like red, and I like meeting people, so it’s a good combination for me,” Lewis said.
McMillan said he chose the Class of 1953 Commons dining hall — which is behind the Collis Center and is known on campus as “Foco,” short for “food court” — because it is a neutral location most students visit and spend time at on a regular basis.
“Foco is not a social scene; it’s a part of our community,” McMillan said.
Thus far, McMillan has received positive feedback from friends and strangers alike and said that he has personally had positive experiences while using the red social cups.
The cups will stay in place as long as students support the project. Though Dining Services is supportive of the project, officials there want it to be student driven.
“If the community is supporting it and there’s a demand, we want to keep it going,” Matthew Smith, manager of communications and catering at Class of 1953 Commons, said. “But it has to be student driven; our mission is simply feeding people.”
Dining Services ordered the red cups within 24 hours of McMillan’s proposal and went on to print posters advertising the project.
“We had nothing to lose by doing it, but if it works, it helps the community,” Smith said. “We had to order new cups anyway, so why not?”
McMillan said he hopes that first-year students next fall will latch onto the project when they arrive on campus since freshman fall is a prime time for meeting new people and being unafraid to approach others.
“There is no reason for social activity to die down or for people to not spontaneously introduce themselves to classmates beyond freshman fall,” McMillan said.
Adam Tong, a Dartmouth sophomore, said that for freshmen who may not have met many people on campus, the red cups signal their willingness to meet people. He also said it seems unlikely that someone sitting alone with a red cup would be approached, but more likely for a small group of students with red cups to attract a student who might otherwise sit alone.
Like the dining staff, Lewis believes the project requires student initiative in order to be successful.
“There’s a lot of reservations that a cup, while encouraging, is not going to diminish,” Lewis said. “The dining hall is different from a class setting in that people have a tendency to make themselves look busy if they’re alone.”
Lewis thinks the use of the cups has gradually decreased since being launched. She explained that students most likely get discouraged when others do not instantly approach them while using a social cup.
But she said she also definitely plans to keep on using social cups at meals.
“It might not solve the problem, but it’s worth trying,” Lewis said.
Valley News photographer James Patterson contributed to this report. Macy Ferguson can be reached at Macy.S.Ferguson.firstname.lastname@example.org.