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Missing Flunch? Professors are too

Jane Zebrack, in their Feb 8 Chronicle article, reports the results of a student survey that suggest that many undergraduates are feeling lonely and isolated. This is not at all surprising. It is also deeply concerning to those of us who are used to working closely with students.

Faculty members like me feel isolated too, after almost a year of working-from-home, interacting with our students and colleagues only via Zoom and email. We too are disconnected from our Duke community. 

Personally, I am really missing FLUNCH. As a teacher of a large undergraduate course (ENVIRON 102), I encourage my students to invite me to FLUNCH, either individually or in small groups. FLUNCH is one of my favorite things about Duke, frankly.

Free lunch is great, but the opportunity to have an informal conversation with you is invaluable. I like hearing about what brought you to Duke, what activities you like to do when you aren’t in my class, your dreams for your summer and beyond, etc. And I find myself sharing my own experiences about my own career journey, and what it’s like to try to balance being a professor with being a mom. 

For me, FLUNCH is probably the most important way to connect with students and to understand what the Duke experience really is like for you. 

Recently, my students have shared that they often find themselves eating their lunch alone, huddled on a bench or stone wall somewhere on campus. I find myself often eating lunch in front of my laptop, trying to stem the inevitable tide of email, while being interrupted by my daughters.

I know this isn’t the traditional FLUNCH model, but I’d be happy to Zoom with you instead. Even just a 15-minute chat might be a nice way for both of us to feel a little more connected to the Duke community. If you are a first-year student or have never FLUNCH’d, this could be a nice way to say hello to a professor outside of class. You don’t need to have an agenda or a long list of questions, just a willingness to engage in conversation. 

If E-FLUNCH sounds like something you’d like to try, please reach out to me or to or another professor you’d like to connect with. Many of your professors really do want to get to know you and are happy to have a meaningful conversation outside of normal class time. It may be awkward, yes, as we balance our laptops/phones with our lunches. But even just having a few minutes to check-in may be worth it.

Faculty members are worried about your isolation and loneliness, and we feel some of that too. This isn’t the most elegant solution, but it is an invitation to recreate connection at a time when so many of us need it. I look forward to your E-FLUNCH invitation, and to eating (for free!) with you in person soon.

Professor Rebecca Vidra, Ph.d, is a senior lecturer on environmental science and policy.

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