Thursday, February 01, 2007

Ethnicity and Food

February is Black History Month.

Here in the white part of the Northwoods, Black History isn't something most of our students grow up knowing lots about; they have relatively little contact with Blacks.

The faculty and administration here recognizes that the area isn't incredibly diverse, and have been working for a good long time to make opportunities available here for diverse students, to make NWU welcoming to diverse students, and to help all our students learn about cultural and ethnic diversity in hopes that learning will be a step along the way to bigger and better things.

We have a hard time attracting African American students from elsewhere in the state or from nearby states because we're pretty far from areas with large African American populations, this part of the state doesn't feel really welcoming to ethnic minorites (easily seen, and readily acknowledged by folks I know with first hand experience), and there are other, closer, state schools to choose. We do better with African American and African faculty because people are more willing to come here when there's a salary involved.

Today, we're kicking off Black History month, as, I'm sure, are many campuses across the country. It looks like we've got some interesting, stimulating events planned. Last night, for example, was a really thought-provoking talk. The questions at the session afterwards were interesting (they aren't always) and revealed that the community at large is interested and engaged.

I've noticed since I came here, and probably should have noticed before, that the first introduction many Americans get to other cultures comes through food. I learned to eat with chopsticks in Chinese restaurants before I went to school and met kids from Chinese backgrounds. I ate in Indian restaurants before I knew any Indians. (I could say that for most foods I identify with specific cultures, except for where I lived as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and "typical" African American foods.)

Here, when we have events recognizing and celebrating our diversity, we start with foods.

Now I like food, but it does strike me as odd that one of the big features on the advertising for today's event is that we'll have fried catfish, okra, etc. And macaroni and cheese.

(I'm laughing. I thought there was no more WASPy food on Earth than mac and cheese. Apparently, I'm wrong.)

I think NWU starts with food because students will come for food sometimes, when they won't come for information, music, or whatever. The trick is whether we can get them to stay for more than the food, to see that there's an effort being made, further effort to make, and that they have a place in those efforts and these activities.

So, I'm off to check out the food learn something.

1 comment:

  1. I think mac and cheese is a universal.... or maybe one of the few American foods.