UM Community Finds Connection at Annual Longest Table

Event brings students, faculty, staff, community members together for dinner and discussions

Sirena Brannon (standing, left), a human resources campus partner at the university, and Ole Miss alumnus Sarah Baker, who works at Bramlett Elementary School in Oxford, pose for a photo at the Longest Table. Brannon and Baker, cousins, had not seen each another in years before coincidentally sitting at the same table during the Longest Table dinner on Sunday (Oct. 1). Photo by Clara Turnage/Ole Miss Marketing and Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – More than 100 members of the University of Mississippi community gathered for dinner and conversation Sunday (Oct. 1) afternoon in the Circle at the annual Longest Table.

At the foot of the historic Lyceum, students, professors, staff and administrators sat down for a meal and engaged in conversation. The goal is to build bridges in the community and foster understanding across cultural barriers, Chancellor Glenn Boyce said.

“I’m honored to be a part of this special event, especially in the year 175 of our university,” Boyce said. “The University of Mississippi opened its doors to its first students on Nov. 6, 1848.

“This university marks 175 years this year of delivering education, research, health care and service to the people and state of Mississippi as the state’s flagship university and beyond.” 

The event also marked James Meredith Day, observed Oct. 1 in Oxford to honor the university’s first African American student.

Chancellor Glenn Boyce speaks to a crowd of students, faculty, staff and campus leaders Sunday (Oct. 1) during the annual Longest Table. Photo by Clara Turnage/Ole Miss Marketing and Communications

“As we reflect on the university’s impact across generations, this is a wonderful day to remember and honor the legacy of James Meredith,” Boyce said. “Mr. Meredith courageously came to this very spot and into our historic Lyceum to integrate the university 61 years ago.”

At each table, attendees found a list of prompts to discuss with tablemates. Cade Smith, UM assistant vice chancellor for community engagement, asked each table to pick a leader who would help guide the conversation and encourage participants. 

Manal Alhusban, who is conducting her postdoctoral research at the National Center for Natural Products Research, and her daughter, Salma, 10, sat across from junior Arabic and international studies major Betsy Vise during the dinner.

Much to Alhusban’s surprise, the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native had spent a previous summer studying abroad in Amman, Jordan, Alhusban’s hometown.

“Amman is a huge, huge city,” Vise said. “What’s crazy is I was studying in her neighborhood.”

Alhusban said she attended the Longest Table on recommendation from a friend but did not expect to meet someone who had lived and worked so close to her home.

“I never attended an event with this number of people all together eating dinner, so it was a new experience for me,” Alhusban said. “My kids, they got to see where I work and meet people on campus.” 

Similarly, when Sirena Brannon sat down at a table filled with people, she did not expect to see her cousin, Sarah Baker, whom she had not seen since she was a child.

Baker, a 2023 Ole Miss graduate with a degree in multidisciplinary studies, recently moved back to Oxford to take a job at Bramlett Elementary School. 

“I hadn’t seen her in years,” Brannon said, smiling. “I was listening to her and when she said her mother’s name, I realized who she was. I tell you – I was fighting back tears. It was amazing.”

More than 100 members of the university community gather in front of the Lyceum Sunday (Oct. 1) for the Longest Table, an annual dinner meant to promote community and discussion. Photo by Clara Turnage/Ole Miss Marketing and Communications

Brannon, who works in human resources and teaches EDHE 105, said she attends the Longest Table every year.

“I love this so much because everybody gets to come out and fellowship and talk about where they’re from and why they’re here,” Brannon said. “It’s an opportunity to celebrate people. I’ll be here every year, if I can.”

Rasha Elkanavati, a second-year graduate student in the School of Pharmacy and Fulbright scholar from Cairo, said Sunday’s event was her second time to visit the Longest Table.

“The first time I came, I got to meet another Fulbrighter and we have stayed in touch ever since,” she said. “She was from a different school, so we never would have met.”

Jiwon Lee, a second-year master’s student in integrated marketing communications, said the Longest Table also provides an opportunity for students to make their voices heard to university leaders.

“I think it’s important for students to hear what our administrators, faculty and staff have to say, and for us to voice our opinions and thoughts,” said Lee, of Oxford. “I think this kind of event makes for a better community at the university.”

The Longest Table was founded by 2022 graduate Lily Sweet King in 2018, Boyce said.

“She brought something special to this university,” he said. “I’m proud of our students and what our students have done to make the lives at this university better. This is a perfect example of how that’s done.”