A Haverford Thanksgiving

These days, American colleges attract students from all corners of the country and of the world. For example, at Haverford, students in the  Class of 2022 come from 37 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and 24 other countries. The geographic makeup of each class is just one of many ways that schools like Haverford try to create a diverse student population, and I, as someone who lived in only one place for my entire life before coming to Haverford, appreciate this opportunity to learn about so many places from my classmates.

In fact, as a student from Washington State, one reason I even came to Haverford  rather than staying closer to home was to experience living somewhere completely new. For the most part, coming all the way to Haverford has been just the learning experience I had hoped for. Still, I have found two tough challenges of being a far-from-home student that others in my situation face each year.  First are the challenges of moving yourself in and out of the college each summer when any idea of a car or moving help is thousands of miles away. Second, and more significantly, are the insecurities I face each year come Thanksgiving.

This year I stayed on campus for the holiday rather than making a long flight home on the busiest travel weekend of the year.  In the days leading up to the Thanksgiving break, it seemed like everyone was puzzled by my decision. My family members called me daily, concerned that I’d be alone in my dorm room for the four-day weekend. Friends who were themselves travelling quite far to annual family gatherings invited me along, assuring me that the holiday would be better than being alone, but not without warning of the drama boiling in this extended family I’d never met. And, perhaps to my greatest annoyance, a job interviewer became rather sad when our small talk led to a “No, I won’t be going home this year” despite her intended reason for calling, to deliver bad news.

Despite all this, my holiday here was anything but boring, and anything but lonely. Each year that I’ve been a student here, President Kim Benston and his wife, Professor Sue Benston, invite the entire student body to a vegan Thanksgiving at their home on campus, and I was very glad to finally attend the event this year. For all of the hesitations about an on-campus Thanksgiving break I had heard from family, friends, and strangers in the past few weeks, I was surprised to see how many students attended–enough to fill a table in every room of the house’s main floor! A mix of international and domestic students attended the meal, as well as some recent graduates.

The Benstons put together a special animal-product-free dinner menu prepared by the Dining Center’s catering arm, and a group of students baked a few vegan pies for dessert. After a brief welcome from the Benstons and a moment of silence, the afternoon was just like any other family Thanksgiving meal. Students filled every seat and overflowed onto the living room couch, chatting over mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and soy-based turkey roast. And, when it was time to go home, an unparalleled abundance of DC takeout containers allowed for students to take home leftovers for the requisite next-day leftovers meal. In all, it had the same warm environment I expect from Thanksgiving, minus the financial, logistical, and other personal barriers that often keep students from travelling to their own homes.

Although there still are challenges that far-from-home students face each year at Haverford, I really appreciate the College’s new efforts to better-accommodate students who aren’t from close to campus. The day after the Benstons’ Thanksgiving dinner, the Office of Academic Resources hosted a new, annual “Chillsgiving” event to provide yet another meal for students who stuck around. Additionally, the Office of Multicultural Affairs continued its rather new initiative to stock a pantry in the multicultural center’s kitchen, though this break did bring restricted hours for its access. Of course, each of these initiatives helps students get by while the Dining Center is closed. But, they also help connect the students who remain over breaks with the larger college community of administrators and student support offices. So even when the college is “closed,” the resources we enjoy during the semester do not just vanish.

I sincerely thank the Benstons for opening their home to me, and the OAR and OMA for their continued support of students over the breaks.  I hope to see these initiatives remain for years to come.