Building Relationships with your Student: Food for Thought


Sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, sisters and sisters, brothers and brothers, mothers and sons, the list ofrelationship combinations goes on and on and yet there is no rule book to guide us through any of them.  We rely on our own upbringing, our past experiences outside the home, and advice we seek.

The college years offer us an opportunity to change our relationship with our students.  It also represents the natural change of distance from extended family our students once came to accept as regular visitors. Siblings who are close, feel loss.  Those whose relationships are strained may feel guilt over the relief of the sibling leaving for school.

One proven way to have a positive experience with your student is through lunch and dinner conversations.  Coming together to share food is a practice that has been around for years.  Through food we forge relationships, share stories, provoke laughter, celebrate successes, and overcome challenges. In other words, lunch and dinner conversations bring back for your student the vulnerability — as well as the strength — of their relationship with you in a safe, nurturing, fun setting.  Free from judgement, they can express their feelings about style, taste, texture, value, and authenticity. 

Regardless of our respective cultural backgrounds, the preparation and eating of food is something we all have in common with one another.  But food is much more than nourishment, it is the vehicle through which we communicate sentiments, express our creativity, and create memories.  And it is in the sharing of food with others that we stay connected.  There is almost always a story tied to food, and it is those stories that connect us.

If your child has a UMass Amherst meal plan, they have been exposed to many different types of food and cuisine.  This exposure makes them uniquely skilled in discussing food, good or bad.  Just eating their daily meals, they may have taken the opportunity to eat everything they were never served at home, or perhaps have never heard of. UMass Amherst dining is literally a trip around the world. In addition, Amherst is a land filled with one-of-a-kind bistros and cafes with world class original offerings.  Pick a cuisine none of you have ever experienced, or at least a few menu items.  Share your thoughts and opinions about freshness, preparation, presentation, and more.

My daughters, five years apart in age, recently returned from their first visit to Wildwood Barbecue in Hadley, MA, compliments of their Uncle Joey and Aunt Stephanie. As they poured into the house, giggling about their “sistering” experience, my husband and I asked how they liked their meal. “Well, the ribs reminded us of our Easter in Texas with Cousin Lisa’s family,” Crissy spouted. “We can see that the craft beers must have intrigued Uncle Joey – I think Dad would like to go there, too,” Sophia offered.  “Mom, you could bring your friend Carly there because they have a gluten-free menu,” advised Crissy.

All of their comments linked a part of the restaurant experience with someone in their lives. Food acts as a glue.  We can love food together, hate food together, try to avoid it together and indulge in it together. Most importantly, we can remember it together.

 JoAnn Roselli is the mother of a sophomore and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.