Last year, Penn Dining canceled Black History Month celebrations, prompting backlash from students and dining hall workers. This year, they will feature family dishes created by dining hall staff.
Penn Dining is featuring recipes from the staff's curated cookbook "The Penn Family Cookbook" at various dining halls including 1920 Commons, Hill House, King's Court English House, Falk Dining Commons at Hillel, and Lauder College House from Feb. 10 to Feb. 13. The cookbook consists of recipes created by 13 Black dining hall workers at Penn. King's Court English House also hosted a live pop and jazz performance on Wednesday featuring a keyboard player, trombonist, and a singer who performed songs throughout the evening.
In February 2019, Penn Dining called off Black History Month celebrations during which Penn Hillel's Falk Dining Commons' workers had cooked and offered students Southern cuisine in the past.
Director of Business Services and Hospitality Services Pam Lampitt said that the University Chaplain Chaz Howard and cultural centers advised Penn Dining to cancel the celebrations after seeing backlash at other universities for serving food that is stereotypically related to Black people for Black History Month.
"Many people lost their jobs because of [the stereotypical menu]," Lampitt said. "Not only their students, but our students were upset by it.”
In February 2018, Loyola University Chicago and New York University served food and drinks that have stereotypically been associated with Black people, such as fried chicken and Kool-Aid, for Black History Month.
In response to last year’s cancelation of the traditional Black History Month celebrations, 15 student groups including Penn Student Power and Penn First organized an open forum with Penn Hillel's Falk Dining Commons workers.
Lampitt and Penn Business Services Director of Communications and External Relations Barbara Lea-Kruger said, however, the open forum had no influence on the decision to hold celebrations this year.
“There was nothing that really came out of that that moved us in a different direction,” Lampitt said.
Troy Harris, the Falk Dining Hall worker who reached out to student groups last year to organize the event, said that many dining hall workers were pleased that Penn Dining reached out to them in December 2019 to plan 2020 Black History Month celebrations. Harris said, however, he hopes for more awareness of Black History Month at Penn.
“When it’s Christmas, the college is [like] ‘oh get ready for your Christmas break, get ready for your holiday break.’ When it’s Black History Month, [I don’t see] people that I work for coming in talking about Black History Month, unless they [are going to] be announcing to us when they are about to do something," Harris said.
Engineering junior Janine Liu, who is also a member of Penn Student Power, however, believed that the open forum “absolutely” influenced Penn Dining in their decision-making process.
“As soon as we did that, [Penn Dining] started planning something for Black History Month. Prior to that nothing had been done,” Liu said. “It seems to be a lack of responsibility from the administration.”
Lea-Kruger said that Penn Dining created "The Penn Family Cookbook" after directly communicating with dining hall workers who expressed frustration about not being able to bring their own family-favorite recipes to the dining halls.
Liu added that despite the University's decision to hold Black History Month dining hall celebrations this year, more should be done than simply creating a cookbook.
“When you have so many people from vulnerable backgrounds on campus, you need to dedicate yourself to ensuring that those vulnerable populations feel safe and feel welcomed and feel like their culture is as important as white culture," Liu said.
Tracey Matthews, a Kings Court Dining Hall worker who has spent 33 years working for Penn, evaluated the celebration highly. Matthews said that Penn Dining has organized celebrations for many cultures during her time at Penn and she was pleased that Black culture can be honored as well.
“We do so many different things and I just wanted to be able to show our way of how we do things. It’s not the full way but it’s a great start,” Matthews said. “I just would like to see it to be a part of our every-year event.”
Harris said that he hopes the University will put more emphasis on Black History Month celebrations in the future.
“Hopefully for the years to come, [Black History Month] can really really be announced,” Harris said. “Not just saying you gotta teach this course about Black History Month, but just let them know that we’re here as a minority.”