One of the great joys of being president of the University at Buffalo is having the opportunity to spend so much of my time in the company of UB community members and friends. On a weekly and sometimes daily basis, my wife, Kamlesh, and I have the pleasure of hosting students, faculty, staff, alumni and university guests both on campus and in our home. Large or small, formal or casual, virtually all of these gatherings revolve around two constants: good conversation and good food.
That is no coincidence. Through the hundreds of gatherings I’ve enjoyed over the years, both as host and guest, I’ve learned that sharing a bite to eat leads very naturally into the sharing of stories, ideas and viewpoints.
The simple act of sharing a meal is a powerful act of community building. There is a universality to the act of gathering over food that reminds us of our common ground across cultural, geographic and ideological borders. And over the years, I’ve experienced this potent community-building effect in countless ways—from student government candidates setting aside their differences over pizza and wings, to scholars debating competing economic theories while indulging a mutual love for souvlaki at the campus Mediterranean café, to cross-national faculty collaborations emerging over callaloo and plantains with a visiting Jamaican delegation.
For a large, diverse, global academic community like UB, the opportunities for intellectual and cultural sharing are especially profound. Our students, faculty and staff come here from every state in the nation and more than 130 countries around the world. Through our formal exchange programs with more than 80 institutions across the globe, we host hundreds of international students, faculty and visiting scholars every year.
All this adds up to a wealth of opportunities to make connections, trade ideas and exchange experiences. And a shared meal is so often the occasion where these connections are forged and strengthened.
I see it happen whenever Kamlesh makes her famous samosas for our dinner guests, imparting not only a taste of our Indian culture but also a piece of her family history that inspires our guests to relate their own family stories. And I’ve seen many more examples of people creating understanding across cultures by offering to share a meal with others, whether it’s an employee inviting international students to join her family for a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal each year, or groups of Muslim faculty and students celebrating the end of Ramadan with UB community members of other faiths.
One of UB’s great distinguishing strengths is the incredible diversity of cultures, backgrounds and perspectives. We are an interdisciplinary, international and richly multifaceted community of scholars, artists and professionals from all over the world and all walks of life. And that complexity represents endless possibilities for the sharing of experiences and perspectives. I can’t think of any better place to begin than at the table, inspired by good company, good food and good conversation.