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NYU BHM Dinner Sparks Discussion Over Faux Outrage After It Was Initially Believed 2 Black Cooks Were Fired

New York University officials are speaking out after an “insensitive” Black History Month meal made headlines last week, the fallout from which has sparked intense debate among students on campus.

NYU’s Center for Multicultural and Educational Programming hosted a talk Friday, Feb. 24, with the Governance Council of Minority and Marginalized Students to discuss countless issues relating to Aramark, the university’s food service provider, NYU Local reported.

Last week, the company chose to suspend and subsequently fire the head chef and an operations manager after they decided to serve a controversial dinner replete with ribs, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, watermelon-flavored water and Kool-aid to honor Black History Month. The meal sparked outrage among African-American students, and even university president Andrew Hamilton, who called it insensitive.

The employees, who were both white, were terminated without conversation with NYU, according to the newspaper.

“… Part of the reason that management at Aramark decided to fire the head chef and the manager is because they sent out a correspondence to all Aramark employees stating that you cannot, and must not change the menu based on arbitrary decision–making processes locally,” NYU Chief Diversity Officer Lisa Coleman said.

“You have them [the menus] vetted through whatever institution and through head corp,” Coleman added. “They didn’t do that. The management on site made a decision to frame this soul food menu, so that is why Aramark decided to fire them.”

At one point in the discussion, the panel, which gave student groups the chance to speak with university officials, asked students what they would like to hear in a statement from Hamilton after students complained that his apology over the incident was too vague.

“I want — the people who were fired — I want it be clarified who they were, what their positions were, that they were not people of color, because that is a big misconception,” sophomore Nia Harris told the panel. “I want him to state that on this campus he values Black students.”

It was initially reported that the two workers involved were Black, sparking reactions from critics who suggested the firings were the result of Black students being too sensitive and “caring too much” about what others think. Others argued that the meal was fine, minus the watermelon water and Kool-aid.

Students also made clear that they never called for the employees’ firings. Coleman backed the students’ claims, saying in a recent investigatory meeting, they “… explicitly requested that we protect and make certain that there would not be a course of action against the cooks and the frontline staff.”

Kayla Eubanks, another student dissatisfied with the president’s apology, said she’d like his statement to say that what happened was wrong and that officials are on the side of the students.

NYU’s Black Student Union released a statement in response to the offensive dinner.

“To reiterate: watermelon, the fruit, is not the issue,” their statement read. “The issue is that someone went out of their way to purchase out-of-season watermelon to serve at a meal designed to celebrate Black students and their culture … NYU needs to begin asking the membership of the [BSU] and the memberships of various Black student organizations how we’d like to see NYU celebrate Black History Month as well as be open to adapting to the times as they change.”


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