New York University is catching heat for a racially insensitive incident that occurred at one of the school’s dining halls. The university apologized for an “inexcusably insensitive” Black History Month-themed dining hall menu after a student called it out in a post on Facebook. Aramark, the food service provider, also issued an apology, saying their employees "did not follow our approved plan for the celebration of Black History Month" and had been terminated.
The New York Times reported that Weinstein Dining Hall at the New York college planned a menu in honor of Black History Month that would feature barbecue ribs, cornbread, collard greens, and two drink options: watermelon-flavored water, and Kool-Aid. When NYU sophomore Nia Harris confronted the head cook about the racially insensitive implications of the menu, he allegedly dismissed Harris’ concerns — propelling Harris to contact school officials via email, and to post about her experience and a copy of the email online on Feb. 20. "In 2018 I literally had to explain why displaying watermelon and koolaid [sic] in celebration of Black History Month was not only racially insensitive but just ignorant," she wrote in her Facebook post. Bustle reached out to both Harris and an NYU representative, and we will update this article when we receive a response.
On Feb. 21, NYU President Andrew Hamilton released an apology, calling the proposed menu “inexcusably insensitive,” and explaining how the oversight occurred in the first place. “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,” said President Hamilton. “We are grateful to the students who brought this to the attention of the University. 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.”
In Harris’ original email to NYU officials, including most of the deans of the NYU schools, she expressed her disappointment and frustration in the response from the head cook. Harris explained that when she confronted the cook, he reportedly said the people who planned the meal were Black.
Furthermore, Harris addressed the “negative racial connotations and history” of the proposed menu. "In 2018, there’s no excuse for intentional and deliberate disrespect. There’s no reason that anyone should be acting like they had no clue this was insensitive,” wrote Harris. “What does this say about our university if we just take this down and just sweep this under the rug? This school prides itself on being diverse and inclusive. Yet, we are displaying stereotypical food for Black History Month and telling Black students this is not racially insensitive when they ask about it.”
President Hamilton expressed in the statement that NYU expects the food service company to take preventative steps to avoid racially insensitive incidents in the future. “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,” the statement reads.
Moreover, the NYU statement revealed Amarak would be conducting an independent investigation of the incident, suspending the director of dining at Weinstein Dining Hall, and would require sensitivity training for all employees. “[Amarak is] extremely disappointed by the insensitive and offensive actions taken by one of our employees who did not follow policy and processes. The individual acted independently in a way that runs counter to our values, and compromised our longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion,” Victoria Pasquale, the Regional Vice President of Aramark, said in the statement.
Though Harris told The New York Times she feels the response to the dining hall incident was a “victory,” she pointed out that Black students are often those who have to spend their time educating others on racism and racial sensitivity. "We’re doing this extra work, teaching people how to be sensitive to us,” she said.