In 2015, a dining hall at Ohio’s Oberlin College served some subpar banh mi, General Tso’s chicken, and sushi, and stirred up a shitstorm, instead of student appreciation. Students called out the school’s dining services for cultural appropriation in the Oberlin Review and quickly got national attention as not only the subject of mockery, but also an example of culture clash on college campuses.
More recently, campus dining services at Loyola University and at New York University spurred backlash last year over Black History Month-themed meals of fried chicken, watermelon, and Kool-Aid. Those meals caught flak for falling into racial stereotypes, and they prompted public apologies and promises to retrain staff at both schools.
Because of those fiascos, dining services at the University of Pennsylvania have decided to skip the risk entirely: As reported by the Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn Dining has told dining hall workers that they’re not allowed to cook Southern food as a Black History Month celebration, as they had done last February. Penn Dining’s director of business and hospitality services told the DP that the decision came in light of “mishandled” Black History Month celebrations at other schools.
According to some, however, the decision points to a campus-wide lack of appreciation for Black History Month. One student told the DP that students should recognize the decision to ignore and “even reject Black History Month,” and dining chef Troy Harris said, “They just told me they had to reach out to other people and they didn’t want to offend nobody, but I feel like the only ones feeling offended is us.”
In response, Harris added that dining workers and student groups will hold their own open forum instead. The event, which took place today, is called “What Happened to Black History Month?" According to the event page, its purpose was to “rise and resist the erasure of Black history” by giving space for Black workers at Penn to share their experiences.
Officially—following meetings between Harris, Bon Appétit Management Company, and Penn Dining late last week—Penn Dining will host a Black History Month dinner honoring Black chefs this Thursday. It’s not clear yet what will be on the menu.