Ashley Ahn, Daily Pennsylvanian, February 25, 2019
In February 2018, Penn Hillel’s Falk Dining Commons’ workers celebrated Black History Month by cooking and offering students Southern cuisine. This year, however, the dining workers were told by the University that they could not do so anymore.
Troy Harris, a Falk Dining chef since 2000, said Falk Dining workers cooked Southern cuisine to celebrate Black History Month last year and several other times in past years. But earlier this month, Harris said Penn Dining and Bon Appétit management, which directly oversees Falk Dining staff, told the chefs they could not continue the tradition this year.
Penn Dining Director of Business Services and Hospitality Services Pam Lampitt wrote in an email to the DP that Penn Dining decided not to allow the dining hall workers to cook Southern food this year because of incidents at other schools, such as Loyola University Chicago and New York University, that have “mishandled” celebrations of Black History Month.
In February 2018, both of the universities served food and drinks that have stereotypically been associated with black people, such as fried chicken and Kool-Aid, for Black History Month. The incidents led to student backlash, causing dining hall vendors at both universities to publicly apologize.
“Penn Hillel supports the celebration of Black History Month on campus and in the University dining program,” Yushuvayev wrote. “The decision about how to celebrate Black History Month in University dining halls is one that is made by the University and Bon Appétit in conversation with dining staff and student leaders.”
Harris said the Falk Dining workers will instead stage an open forum, titled “What Happened to Black History Month?” alongside 13 student groups on Monday afternoon at the Compass, where black Penn workers will be able to share their experiences with students.
Penn Dining and Bon Appétit also plan to recognize Black History Month by hosting a dinner at Falk Dining Commons on Thursday which will highlight “famous black chefs,” Lampitt wrote. Harris said Bon Appétit management did not announce the dinner idea until their meeting with the dining staff on Feb. 21.
On Feb. 21, Harris met with Penn Student Power, a new student group that brings together Penn students and community members, to discuss setting up an event between the workers and students.
At the Monday afternoon open forum, students will be able to meet dining staff workers and Penn staff will be able to share their personal stories with students. The student groups hosting the event include Penn Student Power, Penn First, Penn Association for Gender Equity, and Students Organizing For Unity and Liberation.
College freshman Dallas Ryan, one of the founding members of PSP, said she sees a lack of representation and appreciation for Black History Month on campus.
“It’s important that we as students appreciate our black staff and black students, because they make up our everyday lives, and for the school to kind of ignore or even reject Black History Month is something we should all be upset about and that’s something we should all recognize and all notice,” Ryan said.