The University of Maryland RHA launched a new initiative in Yahentamitsi Dining Hall Friday that provides small flags for diners to place on their table to indicate that they would be willing to sit with others, according to Dining Services officials.

The Conversation Flags initiative was thought up last semester by members of the Residence Hall Association’s Dining Services Advisory Board as a way to foster community and help facilitate social interactions for students who may find it challenging, according to Mikhail Labar, RHA’s Dining Services coordinator.

The initiative will start by offering up to 15 teal table top flags free for anyone to use, he added.

“If people talk to each other more, there’ll be a bigger shared identity,” Labar, a freshman mechanical engineering major, said. “It would benefit most people.”

RHA and Dining Services piloted the initiative in Yahentamitsi Dining Hall since it’s typically crowded during dinner, Labar said. The flags would hopefully encourage people to sit together and free up more tables as a result, he added.

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According to Labar, the Dining Services Advisory Board will likely compile reports to see if the flags are being used. If the program appears to be successful, the board hopes to expand it to all campus dining halls in the future, he added.

Labar said members of RHA and other students are encouraged to utilize the flags.

“We want as many people to use them even if they don’t strictly need to use them just to normalize their use,” Labar said.

Freshman marketing major Sydney Wolpert did not notice the flags when she walked into Yahentamitsi on Saturday, but thinks they are a good idea.

“If it was made more aware to people that would be a good chance to have people meet new people,” Wolpert said.

Flags were placed in a high-traffic spot in Yahentamitsi, but Dining Services spokesperson Bart Hipple said he wants to continue working on finding a new spot to increase the flags’ visibility.

Wolpert said she was unsure she would use a flag herself, however.

“Maybe if I was with someone I knew then we could use one and sit with a new person,” she said.

Through the formation of the initiative, Dining Services reached out to the Counseling Center over winter break to better understand the benefits it could have on a student’s mental health, Labar said. He noted that the center “was very much on board.”

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Colleen Byrne, a clinical professor and psychology clinic director at this university, said she thinks that this initiative could benefit students with social anxiety or those that may sit alone out of a fear of rejection.

It’s easy to look around the dining halls and assume that everyone else is eating with a friend or having an enjoyable conversation, according to Byrne. If you are eating alone, it can be part of a larger pattern of feeling isolated or lonely, Byrne said.

“The sign is a lovely way of just offering some companionship for that mealtime,” she said.

Hipple is hopeful this initiative will encourage people to eat together and make new connections.

“I certainly hope that students connect more frequently and more freely,” he said.