In 1921, Knox College in Illinois attempted a new way to break students out of their social comfort zones: randomly selecting the seating arrangements at the dining hall.
Here, in a dining hall seating 200 men, they come together three times a day, as a part of a deliberate plan for developing democratic spirit and avoiding the formation of cliques. Each man draws lots each week to determine at which of the twenty ten-men tables he shall eat with nine other chance comrades. In this way there is a general shaking up every seven days, and a different group of undergraduates is assembled at each table.
So, did it work?
“The system has had a good trial year and has met with complete success,” President McConaughy said in a recent interivew. [Note for modern readers: that’s indeed spelled McConaughy, not McConaughey as in the actor Matthew.] “It is supplying that intangible something without which no student’s education is complete, but which must be got outside the classroom. It brings all the men of the college together on terms of equality and fosters friendships which cannot be gained through any group association.”
If it truly “met with complete success,” one might think Knox would still do it today. But in my searching, I found zero references to a modern continuation. Still, it sounds like something that more people should try. Although one could argue that we have a global equivalent now, in the form of Chatroulette.
Democracy by Lot — A College Experiment
Published: Sunday, May 29, 1921