A Black New York University student was appalled upon discovering how one of the school’s dining halls was celebrating Black History Month.
On Tuesday, sophomore Nia Harris entered the Weinstein Passport Dining Hall and learned they were serving ribs, mac and cheese, and collard greens as part of their Black History Month-themed menu. All of that was fine and dandy until the 19-year-old noticed they were also serving Kool-Aid and watermelon-flavored water. The beverages, which Harris noted aren’t typically served in the cafeteria, were being offered alongside the soul food selections. She wrote about the incident in a Facebook post in which she said her complaints to the hall’s head cook were rudely brushed off:
“… After being bounced around from person to person you finally get a chance to meet with someone. Today this happened. Today I was lied to, placated, and ignored. In 2018 I literally had to explain why displaying watermelon and koolaid in celebration of Black History Month was not only racially insensitive but just ignorant. I’ve wanted to go to NYU since I was 7th grade, and it breaks my heart that at this allegedly “diverse” and “global” institution, black students are faced with issues like this one….TALK ABOUT THESE ISSUES. These institutions want black students for diversity statistics, but cannot handle when students speak out. It’s time for action.”
The post was written alongside a screenshot of the email she wrote to school officials. NYU President Andrew Hamilton released a statement addressing the controversy on Wednesday.
“We were shocked to learn of the drink and food choices that our food service provider—Aramark—offered at the Weinstein dining hall as part of Black History Month,” the statement posted on NYU’s website read. “It was inexcusably insensitive. That error was compounded by the insensitivity of the replies made to a student who asked Aramark staff on site how the choices were made.”
Hamilton also included an apology from Aramark in his response. Victoria Pasquale, the food service company’s regional vice president, said one of its employees ignored company protocol by not consulting anyone before running the menu. Hamilton, who said the director of Weinstein was suspended, expressed gratitude to Harris for bringing the matter to the university’s attention.
“We are grateful to the students who brought this to the attention of the University,” the NYU president continued. “We are extremely dissatisfied with Aramark’s actions in this instance. The drink and food choices for this meal were not discussed with NYU beforehand. NYU’s dining administrators will insist that Aramark put in place a mechanism to avoid a repeat of yesterday’s episode, such as consulting the existing student advisory body and campus cultural groups about the menu for special events.”
Harris spoke to The New York Times about the offensive episode on Wednesday.
“I would consider today a victory,” she said. “But it’s also very important that we had to publicize it in order to put the pressure on them to do the right thing because I feel like had I not publicized it, this could have gone a little bit differently.”
In addition to fulfilling the many responsibilities that come with being a college student, Harris said she and her Black NYU peers also have to do “extra work” by “teaching people how to be sensitive to us.”
“The burden of teaching people how to be respectful to us is falling on us,” she said.