By Aviva Hope Rutkin
One Union dinner got some extra attention this week.
West Dining served a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day themed meal on Monday evening. The menu included collard greens, pulled pork, cornbead and fried chicken.
This event drew the attention of Isabelle Edwards ‘15, who wrote about it on her Union student blog ‘Simply Izzy.’
“This day, which is supposed to be held in such high regard, seemed to be turned into some type of joke because of the archetypal food provided and the negative connotations that came along with it,” she wrote on Monday night.
“Yes, as a student body and community as a whole, we should be beyond the immediate association of African-Americans and fried chicken, or other stereotypes, and yet, tonight demonstrated that we are not. The association is still there. And that was really upsetting to realize.”
Isabelle Edwards ’15, Student Blogger
View the full blog post here.[/pullquote]
The ‘Simply Izzy’ blog is part of her work-study position at the Office of Communications.
“My job is actually to write a blog from the students’ point of view for the admissions site at Union,” Edwards explained in a phone interview.
Student bloggers are given free rein by the office to write positive or negative stories about the college. “When I heard people making a ruckus about what the meal was, I thought, I’m not going to pass this up. This is racially insensitive,” Edwards said. “There is a well-know stereotype that… Southern foods are associated with African-Americans, and I don’t understand how Dining Services couldn’t have seen that because it immediately became a joke.”
The post attracted about 350 views as of press time, six or seven times the normal amount of traffic. Students who sympathized with Edwards’s sentiments brought the post to the attention of college administrators.
“It’s unfortunate,” Director of Dining Services David Gaul said. “We certainly didn’t anticipate that this would make such a ripple in the water.”
West Dining utilized a ‘homegrown’ menu, choosing the dishes independently rather than taking from the Sodexo corporate matrix of MLK Day recipes. Gaul says that the menu was chosen “without intent to upset anybody.”
“[Edwards] seems to be taking kind of a balanced position on it,” Director of Multicultural Affairs Jason Benitez said. “I like the fact that she is acknowledging the effort that Dining Services tried to have a themed menu. She respects that they’re trying, but feels like in her opinion it didn’t sit well with some students.”
Benitez plans to meet with Edwards and other upset students to discuss the meal.
“This particular situation is an excellent opportunity to bring folks to a table and have some type of dialogue about this,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dining Services promises to take this experience into account when planning menus for future events.
“The team felt very badly about [this],” Gaul says. “We’ll grow and learn and make changes for the future.”