By: Meggie Welch – Staff Writer
Wright State University’s Black History Month menu offended students and staff when it was placed under prominent African-American civil rights leaders’ pictures, while UD’s Black History Month menu was a success.
According to Dayton Daily News, WSU’s dining halls offered a menu of “fried chicken, collard greens, mashed potatoes and cornbread,” which spurred a negative reaction and caused the displays to be shut down. UD has a similar celebration in honor of Black History Month once a year, but it is typically received positively by the majority of students and staff.
WSU has since apologized for angering its students and staff. According to WHIO, President David Hopkins said the university is looking into why the menu was directly under pictures of Martin Luther King Jr and other leaders.
“I apologize to anyone hurt by the display,” Hopkins wrote to WSU students in an email. “To our credit, the menu was quickly removed. But the larger question remains: why was it done?”
The steps WSU needs to take to answer this question come from coordination between dining services and the university’s diversity department, WSU Communication Director Seth Bauguess told The Guardian.
On Feb. 5, Kennedy Union food court offered a Black History Month menu of fried chicken, mashed sweet potatoes, collard greens and Hoppin John, which highlighted foods traditionally enjoyed by African-American families in the UD community. There was public controversy.
A committee composed of African-American KU employees at planned UD’s menu. Many of the dishes served were family recipes, which the workers were proud to share with the UD community.
“The entire dinner was a five on a scale of five,” Paula Smith, executive director of dining services, said. Smith and her husband ate fried chicken, Hoppin’ John, mashed sweet potatoes and especially enjoyed the collared greens. Smith said the collard greens were an excellent, healthy option, even saying she would make them with the same recipe the next time her family has collard greens.
“In terms of meals served, it actually was one of the largest special dinners we have had in my two years at KU,” General Manager of the Food Court and Barrett Dining Hall, Lisa Glaser said.
While WSU and UD’s menus were almost identical, UD’s menu did not prove to be offensive, According to WHIO, Wright State higher-ups found out about the menu via Twitter, where someone uploaded a tweet about the menu’s insensitivity.
“I was really hurt [by the menu],” Billy Barabino, WSU senior and president of its Black Student Union, said to a WHIO reporter. “It was a real knock in the face for African-American individuals who have fought for us to be progressive. It minimized who we are as people.”
WSU’s president insists the goal of the menu was not to create controversy, but to help celebrate the culture of African-Americans.While Wright State did not give any indication of the meal being traditional to African-American families, KU staff made sure to put some background into the night so that people would understand this is what is culturally traditional for them to eat.
“I think many times, in attempts to be inclusive and to honor diversity, people who might be in the majority community or in communities other than the ethnic groups they’re trying to honor, sometimes get it wrong,” WSU Vice President of Multicultural Affairs and Community Engagement Kimberly Barrett said.
Barrett believes Wright State has learned its lesson and will consult people from the culture they are trying to honor next time.