Sodexo, Drake University’s contracted food services provider, served a meal on Feb. 12 in Hubbell Dining Hall intended to celebrate African-American culture in honor of Black History Month. Sodexo’s decision to serve this meal was made independent of the University. While clearly a well-intentioned effort to celebrate African-Americans’ cultural history, the result is inappropriate and misguided. Unlike prior years when the Coalition of Black Students had input on the menu, no collaboration took place this year. After speaking with the president of the Coalition of Black Students, Sodexo revised tonight’s plans to incorporate educational and historical information at the dining hall. Additionally, Sodexo will work with the Coalition of Black Students on a second dinner honoring Black History Month that will provide an opportunity for the student group to raise awareness of historical and cultural issues, including contextual information about food associated with black culture.
— Drake University
Sodexo would like to apologize for hosting a dinner on Wednesday evening intended to celebrate Black History Month, but instead offended many members of the Drake community. As in past years, we should have communicated and collaborated with the Coalition of Black Students on this event in order to make it a learning opportunity for Drake students. As a result of a conversation with the student group’s president, we will collaborate on a second dinner honoring Black History Month to raise awareness of black history, culture, and cuisine.
I compose this letter in response to a very recent incident that has occurred at Hubbell Dining Hall Wednesday night. Early in the afternoon, a peer informed me that Hubbell was advertising a “Black History Month Dinner” with a menu that comprised fried chicken and collard greens. The intentions were no doubt to include Drake students in a cultural experience, but it instead came off as offensive and insensitive not only to the African American community but also to students and faculty of all races.
I understand that, years ago, there was collaboration between the Coalition of Black Students and Sodexo to produce an African American dining experience, but as the President of the Coalition of Black Students (CBS) I know that there was no communication between the two parties this year, and we were completely taken off guard, to say the least. What people fail to understand is that the proposed “Black History meal” was a largely southern meal more accurately referred to as “Soul Food.”
Had there been communication between both parties, Sodexo and CBS could have maximized learning potential in creating an educational event for all students on campus. After talking with the Director of Sodexo, we created a solution that included laying out historical informational sheets about African American history and soul food, and we proposed the idea to create a second meal that will involve more collaboration between both organizations.
In fact the Coalition of Black Students has its own annual event titled “Mama’s Cookin’” that links southern eating and culinary history. The difference is that this is an event discussed and planned by the organization and is advertised as a Soul Food event where people can get a good, home cooked, southern inspired meal, and more importantly our voice is included.
What upsets me, and a large portion of the student body, the most is that some portions of the meal perpetuated offensive stereotypes for a particular group of people, and a very small group at that. Some African American students felt embarrassed and patronized getting their meal because people may have been inclined to look at them as the “typical black girl/boy” eating the “black food.” With more collaboration and communication, this hurtful atmosphere could have been avoided.
This event had good intentions, but the lack of communication hurt the potential of the event. I believe that, with future collaboration, we can put this incident behind us and create something positive for the Drake community that is both delicious and educational. From this incident, I hope that people take away two things: honoring black history needs to go beyond serving stereotypical foods, and black history is American history.
— Tess Montgomery, Class of 2015
President, Coalition of Black Students