Hillsdale’s Necessary Society

Written by Marcella Brylski

It’s Friday. You’ve just finished a long, mid-semester week of studying and paper writing, and now you’ve finally quit the library for the evening. Having left Central Hall and its iconic, spotlit bell tower behind for the night, you head down North Manning toward an old student house a block from campus.

Turning left off of Manning, you pass the front of the house and crunch up the gravel driveway past a big, foggy window, frosted around the edges and lined at the sill with candles and half-empty glasses. Going up the concrete steps at the side of the house, you push through the creaky, screen door and are immediately greeted with an invigorating rush of chatter, the cozy glow of incandescent lights, and the warmth of a busy and crowded kitchen.

Welcome to Necessary Society.

Necessary Society is an open-invite, weekly dinner gathering founded by Reagan Cool, ’20. It was established as a reminder that, as described on the group’s Facebook page, “We are allowed and it is good to treat one another as adults. It is good to share a meal with those [with] whom one disagrees, and diversity is best celebrated in community.”

So, every Friday evening at 6 p.m., students of all years, along with some professors, gather in a student’s living room off campus for an evening of good food and good company.

Each student contributes to dinner—either by bringing a requested food item or by Venmo-ing a couple of dollars to the host—and to the conversation, the theme of which is announced on Facebook, along with dinner’s main course, earlier in the week. The range of topics is vast, as is the dinner selection.

Themes have ranged from “Chili and the Death Penalty” and “Ghosts and Tacos” to a “Crunchy Concerns Forum,” where students discussed topics like essential oils and free-range child rearing while feasting on a yogurt parfait bar. Recently, upon the opening of campus’ new Christ Chapel, attendees discussed sacred architecture over a charcuterie board.

Necessary Society, in addition to providing a fun and aesthetic way to spend a Friday evening (because, let’s face it, who wants to eat in the dining hall one more time on Friday night?), fills an important niche in building community among students on and off campus. Not only does it offer students a place to intentionally gather together to eat and converse like adults, it also serves as a reminder that intellectual discussions can also be, and perhaps should be, lively, social, entertaining, and immediately applicable, extending beyond merely academic interest into the realm of personal interest and everyday conversation.

On the group’s Facebook page, for example, students often post articles that they have read and reacted to on the weekly topic, either in preparation for the discussion or to continue the conversation. Surrounding a recent discussion of end-of-life care, one student posted a First Things article called “L’Chaim and Its Limits: Why Not Immortality?” while another student followed up a comment she made in discussion with a picture of a page from a book supporting her position. Students have responded with everything from YouTube videos to Gerard Manley Hopkins poems.

This sort of vibrant intellectual community outside the classroom provides a refreshing reminder that, even when you find yourself lost in the weeds of mid-semester paper writing and test taking, truly intellectual discussions can still be invigorating, and we can take a personal interest in them—and this is sometimes just the boost you need to fall in love with a paper again or to regain perspective on the importance of your intellectual pursuits at Hillsdale.

In addition, as an open-invite event, Necessary Society serves to draw together students from across their years here at Hillsdale in an immediately meaningful and personal way. By offering food (often a great equalizer), a homey, comfortable space, and an open discussion platform that does not discriminate between age groups, Necessary Society provides a way for students to interact without the sense of limiting hierarchy that can sometimes creep into our social dynamics on campus. The first time I went to Necessary Society was one of the first times I actually connected in a meaningful way with some underclassmen I’d never before found a context to interact with.

This comfort and sense of equality transcends the confines of Friday evenings. These social ties, along with the discussions that begin at Necessary Society, can and often do transfer into daily life on campus at Hillsdale. In this way, Necessary Society not only celebrates our ability to treat each other as adults by conversing and eating together, but it also builds community on Hillsdale’s campus at large by drawing students together into meaningful relationships.

Marcella BrylskiMarcella Brylski, ’20, grew up in the great state of Minnesota, where she learned to love sunny fall days and distance running along the Mississippi River. She studies English and Greek at Hillsdale and takes great joy in unexpected conversations with friends, discovering contemporary poets, and unearthing treasures at the local thrift store.

Published in October 2019