NYU dining hall made some unfortunate choices for a Black History Month menu

Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

To commemorate Black History Month, a dining hall at New York University advertised a special dinner on Tuesday night. Sophomore Nia Harris was a bit taken aback when she saw the menu, as she described in a Facebook post: “You walk inside the dining hall only to find ribs, collard greens, and mac and cheese. You note that this is stereotypical, but you decide not to make a big deal.” Then, she saw the beverages: “Red Kool-aid and watermelon water. You take a breath.”

Hall demanded to speak to a supervisor, where her concerns were dismissed; the supervisor told her that the menu was put together by black cooks. Hall then contacted the university, noting the negative racial connotations of watermelon and Kool-Aid. She also described the incident in her lengthy Facebook post, which got a lot of distribution.

University president Andrew Hamilton quickly responded in a statement “calling the menu ‘inexcusably insensitive,’ according to The New York Times. “He said that the food and beverage choices had been made by Aramark, the university’s food service provider, with no input from N.Y.U. officials, and that the ‘error was compounded by the insensitivity of the replies’ to Ms. Harris’ questions.”


Aramark responded by saying that two employees concocted the menu on their own, with no input from other staff. They were fired on Wednesday. Harris told The New York Times that “she chose to believe that the Aramark employees had acted out of ignorance of their menu’s implications, not out of malice” toward her and the university’s other black students. Still, “it should not have been her responsibility to point out the problem… ‘The burden of teaching people how to be respectful to us is falling on us.’”

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.

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Honestly, what’s the right play here though? If you don’t do anything culinary for Black History Month you’re accused of ignoring it. If you do a regular dinner in honor of Black History Month you’re whitewashing it. If you do a themed dinner it’s stereotypical. So what should a large organization do in this situation?