Neighbor Nights “Friendsgiving” event promotes culture and community

Story by Bridget Sjoberg | Staff Writer, Video by Kennedy Dendy | Broadcast Reporter

Baylor students gathered together Tuesday night to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal through fellowship and community as one of the Neighbor Nights program’s most popular events.

The Neighbor Nights second annual “Friendsgiving” was hosted by Baylor Spiritual Life and Better Together BU, an on-campus interfaith group that encourages dialogue and community through a variety of faith traditions. The event was part of Baylor’s Neighbor Nights program, which takes place every other Tuesday for students to enjoy a meal from a different culture or region of the world.

Sharyl Loeung, coordinator for outreach and inclusion in the multicultural affairs department, has played a role in the Neighbor Nights program since it began last year.

“I’ve been involved since its inception,” Loeung said. “Technically, the Tuesday night dinner pre-dates my time at Baylor, as it’s more than a 10 year tradition. It was originally a dinner hosted by the international student ministry team, and then the cross-cultural student ministry team, which I started partnering with in 2015. In 2017 Neighbor Nights began — it’s a night open to faculty, staff, students and their families.”

Loeung said she saw the Friendsgiving event as a fun way to finish the semester through the Baylor community’s sharing food and engaging in conversation and fellowship.

“This is one of our most popular events of the year and how we close the semester,” Loeung said. “We had a Thanksgiving themed meal and shared our traditions surrounding the holidays back home or during the fall in general, as well as talked about what we’re grateful for.”

Loeung said she also viewed Neighbor Nights Friendsgiving as a way to bring together students from a variety of faith traditions and cultures and benefit a good cause.

“This year, because our interfaith group represents multiple religious traditions that practice fasting at different times of the year, we decided to fast together and break fast with our meal,” Loeung said. “Another motivation for the event was that our common ground issue that we worked toward alleviating together was food insecurity and forced migration. We also collected food for The Store and money to buy sleeping bags for refugees in Rome.”

Brooklyn senior Sophia Brice has attended Neighbor Nights in the past and appreciated the Friendsgiving event as a way to encourage conversation among a variety of students.

“I learned a lot more about Ethiopian culture from a friend of mine in religion, an area that I thought I was already well versed in,” Brice said. “It’s honestly a great way to unite the Baylor community, as it fosters a comfortable environment where students from different backgrounds can freely exchanges ideas and experiences while simultaneously learning. Students become more culturally aware and more comfortable with talking to a new face.”

Brice said she views the Neighbor Nights program as one that stands out at Baylor as unique in incorporating different traditions and cultures.

“We all share common human experiences, but our perspectives are screened by our respective cultures, races, religions and genders, which can make us feel so different from one another,” Brice said. “Neighbor Nights gives value to every voice and allows for everyone to share and celebrate their differences. Bridging the gap of seeming dissimilarity is essential to creating a tighter knit student community, and Neighbor Nights is a weekly step in that direction.”

Loeung hopes events like Friendsgiving and Neighbor Nights in general act as uniting forces for the Baylor community and serve as places that are inclusive to all students.

“The goal of Neighbor Nights is to sit around a table and share a meal with both friends and strangers to get to know each other,” Loeung said. “It’s a time to pause from our busy schedules and spend time listening and sharing with each other. We have different groups here each week and they get to host the event, pick the food for the event, sometimes prepare some of the dishes and choose the discussion topics for our tables. This fosters a level of connectivity that helps us achieve our mission, ‘you belong, you are neighbor, you are needed,’”.

In the midst of schoolwork and activities throughout the semester, Loeung hopes Neighbor Nights continues to provide a stable, safe environment for students to express themselves and join in community.

“We want to be a steady place that students can count on to be a consistent presence in their lives,” Loeung said. “We want them to have the opportunity to practice neighboring well by listening and sharing a meal, and hope that this is a place they can feel at home.”