Welcome to Kentucky’s Kitchen Table

Kentucky’s Kitchen Table is a project of Citizen and Self, a class in the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University. Students gather together friends, family, and neighbors to have conversations around the kitchen table about what matters to them and what it means to be part of a community. Here you can see some pictures from the shared dinners, and read about what people learn when they gather together for conversation about who we are and who we want to be.

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Kentucky Kitchen Table: A Night With New Friends

By Hunter

My name is Hunter and I will be describing my Kentucky Kitchen Table experience! Originally, I planned on having my table with my close family, however, this did not work out and so I was able to be connected with a table here in Bowling Green. This Kentucky Kitchen Table was kindly hosted by Molly and David at their home in Bowling Green . Along with David and Molly, the table consisted of Brady, Josie, Samantha, Caitlin and I.

There was a great deal of diversity among our table in terms of age and background. David is an English associate professor and teaches courses ranging from introduction to literature to creative writing. He is also an accomplished writer and has published several novels. He stated that he always keeps a pen at his side in case an idea for a project comes to mind. David has a great sense of humor and was able to keep the conversation going when things were a little awkward towards the beginning of the dinner. Molly used to be an instructor and advisor for creative writing majors and minors at a university, but now mainly focuses on her writing and has also published several novels. She is an extremely talented cook and made Mexican style lasagna with beans and rice, which everyone thought was phenomenal! Brady, Josie, and I all attend Western Kentucky University. Brady is majoring in entrepreneurship with a minor in theatre and is from Paducah, Kentucky. He lives in Minton Hall and loves to snowboard whenever he gets the chance. Josie is currently a freshman majoring in communication disorders and is from Marietta, Georgia. She just happened to fall in love with WKU after quickly touring it on her way to a visit at another college where she was offered an athletic scholarship. She currently lives on one of the top floors in Pearce Ford Tower and loves the view at dusk and dawn. Josie brought in wonderful homemade cookies to share with everyone! I am a junior and biochemistry major from Mercer, Kentucky. I live on the edge of campus and love walking to Snell Hall to work in an organic chemistry lab. I contributed to the dinner by bringing cookies and beverages. Both Samantha and Caitlin are still in high school. Samantha is a senior at a Bowling Green high school and is a close friend of Molly and David. She was described as being like their adopted daughter. She plans on going to college in Washington D.C. Caitlin attends a high school in Washington D.C. and was staying with Molly and David during her visit to Kentucky. She is considering attending WKU and had many questions about campus life for Brady, Josie and I.

Our conversation began by Brady, Josie and I describing to Caitlin a little about our backgrounds and what we loved about Western Kentucky University. We all agreed that we love hiking around campus and that it is easy to quickly walk to any of the lecture buildings, even though the hill can be exhausting. Molly also mentioned how beautiful she thinks WKU is and how great the view is from the top of campus. As the conversation progressed, we started conversing about our thoughts and experiences on the party scene at WKU. Even though Brady, Josie and I all agreed that it is very prevalent at WKU (even in the honors dorms), we all stated that it was something we tried to avoid but that we still saw it as tempting. This conversation made me think about the Paying for the Party book we have read for class. Based on our backgrounds, it appeared to me that Brady, Josie and I all fall into the “cultivated for success” category. We all come from middle class families where our parents have encouraged us to pursue lucrative careers. We all may work occasionally but still have time to make friends and to be involved on campus. This topic also made me reflect on one of the central questions we are exploring in this class, “How can we live well together?” Unlike Brady, Josie and I, low-income students are not being provided the same opportunities that we are and are having lonely college experiences. While we were having this wonderful meal provided by Molly and David, many other students were going to be working late into the night to pay for their college debts. Considering the amount of time I personally spend on homework, I see no way that any student working this much could sanely stay enrolled. It was also mentioned by Molly that almost all the Gatton Academy students she has ever instructed were highly successful in her courses. Maybe this is true because they fall into the cultivated for success category, but are restricted by the academy from being involved in the party scene.

Finally, the question of what citizenship means was brought up. Originally, Brady, Josie and I were going to record the conversation but decided the conversation would flow more naturally if we didn’t. David believed that citizenship means doing what you can for your community. He thought that it doesn’t necessarily matter what way you contribute, as long as you are giving what you can. For example, he believed that a rich business man giving large donations to charity is equally as important as a less wealthy individual volunteering at a charity. Or if a single mom can’t contribute wealth or time, then doing her best to raise her kids to be affable adults is sufficient. David’s statement about the single mother called to my mind the central question of our class, “How do we solve shared problems?” Even if someone doesn’t have the resources or time to become an involved member in their community, they can still help solve problems by simply trying to better themselves and their families. This statement also made me think of the article “Why Bother?” by Michael Pollan. Even though the mother may not be directly benefiting the community, she is still setting an example to other mothers and is achieving a sense of self fulfillment. Molly was in complete agreement with David’s description of citizenship and added on that as citizens we should campaign for the things we are passionate about. She also mentioned the importance of forming relationships with those in the community and helping neighbors in their times of need.

Overall, I believe the most important thing I learned from this dinner is the importance of reaching out to people in our community and forming new relationships. I think the best way we can live well together is by communicating and bonding with those around us. Molly described at one point in the dinner how she had reached out to a neighbor when they were in a time of need. Without her relationship with this neighbor, Molly would have had no clue that this person needed assistance. Relationships are not only important for helping others through tough situations but are also imperative for achieving happiness in our own lives. As mentioned in the “What Makes Us Happy?” article in The Atlantic. During an interview Vaillant, the lead researcher for the study, stated that  he found that the only thing that is important in life is forming relationships. In today’s world, it seems like most people associate happiness with success and neglect to form these relationships. As described in “The Snare of Preparation,” by Jane Addams, we often spend too much time preparing and too little time acting. If we are constantly preparing, then we will never have time to form relationships and to achieve happiness in our lives. Another thing I learned from this experience is that even though someone may not be appearing to help society in any way, they may be doing what that can to help themselves which is enough. Citizenship is about what you can do to make the world a better place to live in, not about keeping a time sheet of how much time you volunteer or how much money you give.

I am very glad that I ended up having my Kentucky Kitchen Table with Molly, David, Josie, Brady, Samantha and Caitlin! If I had done my KKT with my family, I would have not met these wonderful people! Before the dinner, I was skeptical and was expecting the experience to be a waste of my time. Luckily, I was wrong and thought the experience was very beneficial because it effectively portrayed to me how others from different backgrounds view citizenship. I would like to thank Molly and David for hosting our table. They were extremely cordial and provided us with a wonderful meal. To other students who will be conducting their Kentucky Kitchen Tables in the future, I would recommend trying to find a table with members of your community you don’t know very well. It’s a little stressful at first sitting around a table with complete strangers, however, after everyone begins to talk it becomes an enlightening experience. In the future, I’d love to take part in other Kentucky Kitchen Tables to meet more people from my community and to form new relationships!

KKT in BG

By Madison

On April 14th, I attended a Kentucky Kitchen Table dinner in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I was unable to do a dinner in my hometown, but I was beyond happy to meet new people. Lauren was the host for our dinner. We ate at her house in Bowling Green. We had five attendees for our dinner. These included: Lauren, Tenley (Lauren’s daughter), Kaleb, Nicole, and myself. For our dinner, Lauren insisted on cooking for us, so it was agreed that the rest of us would simply attend. We enjoyed cranberry chicken salad sandwiches and spinach salad around a comfortable dining room table in Lauren’s house.

Not long into our dinner, I realized how much diversity we truly had at our table. Everyone came from a wide range of backgrounds and even age ranges. Lauren was the oldest at our table. Tenley was by far the youngest at the age of two. The remaining three of us were around the same age. Lauren had grown up in New York and moved to Kentucky shortly after meeting her husband. Tenley had been growing up in Bowling Green and seemed to love it. Nicole had been raised in a moderately small town in Northeastern Kentucky, not far from my own hometown. Kaleb grew up in a town in central Kentucky named Somerset. I grew up in a quite small town in Northeastern Kentucky named Flemingsburg. Though we were all mostly from Kentucky, we all came from different regions of the state.

Seeing three of us attend Western Kentucky University and one of us teaches at the university, the question was brought up of why we chose to attend Western Kentucky University. Kaleb chose Western because it was a nice university that was moderately close to home for him. Nicole explained that she chose Western in order to get far from her hometown, which she was not very fond of. Furthermore, Lauren told us that she simply chose to teach at Western because it was the closest university to where her and her husband chose to settle. I told everyone that I chose to attend Western Kentucky University so that I could get away from the small town I was raised and experience life. Nicole and I both stated that living in a small town can give you the feeling that you are stuck there.

The first question that was brought about in our discussion was the question of what citizenship means. Lauren began by clarifying that citizenship, aside from the obvious things, means to have compassion for the society you live in. She stated, “You cannot help everyone, but you can do your part.” Every member of our dinner agreed with this statement. This is when we decided that all of our answers for this simple, yet complicated question al revolved around having compassion for your society. The most relevant thing we discussed within this question was the election and everything that Trump has put into action since being elected. Nicole stated that the American Health Care Act removal would have only benefitted rich white Americans, but those who had true passion for their society noticed this and came together to degrade the idea. After discussing the topic of the election and how compassion related to it, we began discussing the “American Dream.” Lauren showed her disgust for the label by saying it was all fake and unachievable, which was very much agreed on. This brought us to the topic of welfare. Kaleb and I both shared personal experiences with family difficulties.

We then moved onto the second question of what we thought the best things in our world were today. Lauren stated that her favorite thing about the Bowling Green community was being part of the fairness ordinance. Nicole stated she had attended the first meeting of the fairness ordinance, as well. Both Nicole and Lauren feel very strongly about having fair rights and equality for those of different sexual orientations. After this being brought up, we soon agreed that sexuality is not a lifestyle. Lauren explained her own experience behind this statement. At a fairness ordinance meeting, she had a man tell her that people of different sexual orientations did not need discrimination laws to protect them. He said that their choice of any sexual orientation was simply a lifestyle, only being what takes place in the bedroom. All of our attendees at our meeting agreed greatly that such a statement is untrue. The world is changing and Bowling Green must evolve to keep up. Nicole made it clear that without passing a fairness ordinance, Bowling Green is going to lose a lot of its diversity, which has been worked very hard for. After analyzing our opinions on equal anti-discrimination laws for those of other sexual orientations, we concluded that the key to fixing our world’s issues is to have compassion for your society.

As our discussion moved on, I came to think of the elephant and rider metaphor that comes from the Jonathan Haidt reading The Righteous Mind. This came to my mind as we discussed the abortion photos that had been posted all over campus for the past week. The week that these photos were being shown was Passover. Having “genocide” photos posted was very hurtful during the Jewish holiday of Passover. We all agreed that the pictures were very harmful to those students who very not Jewish, also. I related this to the elephant and the rider metaphor because it was clear to me that no one agreed with having these photos shown to try and persuade people to be against abortion. The presenters only showed upsetting pictures. They were attempting to speak to everyone’s emotions and bring them to the side of pro-life. Seeing people get very upset and angry with the presenters for telling them they were wrong if they believed abortion should be pro-choice made it very clear to me. They were failing to speak to anyone’s “elephant” (their intuition), which is the leader. They were only speaking to the “rider” on the elephant which is the rational and logical self, and were failing to do a good job at doing this. At this moment in our dinner, it became clear to me that the elephant and rider metaphor is very real.

I learned so much during my Kentucky Kitchen Table dinner. I first learned that though people come from different places and are different ages, they can still share very similar experiences. I also realized that our weekly class readings were more applicable to life that I thought. The readings must simply be looked at from a wider perspective to relate them to our own community. Shortly into our discussion, I realized the importance of acknowledging and not degrading the ideas of others. Lauren stated during our dinner that “you can be against someone, but it doesn’t entitle you to force your ideas upon them.” This was by far my favorite quote from our dinner. My dinner also greatly related to our class question of “How do we work well together?” Throughout our dinner, it became more and more clear to me that we were working so well together to discuss options for wicked problems. We were not struggling to discuss because everyone was open-minded and accepting. This proved to me that the central idea of working well together was being achieved during our dinner. Our dinner also related to the questions of “How do we help others have more control of their lives?” and “How do we have more control over our own lives?” Midway through our dinner, I began thinking about how to possibly relate the discussion to these two questions. It was obvious that we were answering them both, however. We discussed spreading and evoking compassion for one’s society to help others change their community to be better for them. We also discussed becoming more active in our own communities and doing our part in order to help ourselves have more control over what is going on in our lives.

Overall, the Kentucky Kitchen Table Dinner was a marvelous experience for me. I learned so much from the dinner and the people I attended it with. It was a great opportunity to meet new people in Bowling Green and have a civilized discussion with them. This project definitely felt more like a choice and less like homework. I enjoyed this project very much!Image-1.png

 

Kentucky Kitchen Table: A Night With Strangers

By Brady

My experience with trying to set up a Kentucky Kitchen Table was a little troublesome.  Every dinner that I planned with my family, with my friends, or with my church got cancelled.  Starting to freak out about the deadline fast approaching, my teacher came to my rescue after I explained the situation.  She set me up with a family that she knew, faculty from Western Kentucky University, however, I had no clue of who these people were, nor the students that would be joining me.  I had to make my introductions and rely on my personality, as well as everyone else’s personalities to help get me through this dinner.

My Kentucky Kitchen table took place in a lovely home in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  There were seven of us in total and every one of us had a different background than the rest.  The first person I met was the man of the house, David.  David teaches creative writing at WKU and he supposedly always keeps a pen and/or pencil on him at all times in case he has some kind of revelation or spark of creativeness that he must write down.  Next, I met the lady of the household, Molly.  Molly is a writer as well; she has written several books.  Molly and David had a couple of guests as well that stayed for the dinner, Samantha and Kaitlyn.  Kaitlyn is currently a junior in high school from Washington D.C.  Her mother is good friends with Molly and David, so they asked if Kaitlyn could stay a couple of hours so that she could bring some outside diversity to the table.  Kaitlyn is interested in attending WKU after she graduates and major in photojournalism.  Samantha is currently a high school student from Bowling Green.  She was described by Molly and David, “like our adopted daughter.” She plans on going to college in Washington D.C.  Next came in two honors students from WKU, Josie and Hunter.  Josie is currently a freshman at WKU all the way from Marietta, Georgia.  Josie is currently majoring in Communication Disorders.  Josie had just toured the campus on a whim with her father and fell in love with the campus, so that is where she stayed.  Josie brought in a huge arrangement of cookies that she made from scratch in her dorm.  Hunter is currently a junior at WKU and he currently lives off campus.  He is a Kentucky native, like me, from Harrodsburg and he is majoring in biochemistry.  He brought in several beverages such as sprite and sweet tea.

The dinner started off with an appetizer of cool ranch Dorito chips with spinach dip and salsa, however, everyone was so nervous because no one knew each other, that only Molly and myself ate the chips.  Starting out the conversation was very awkward.  We were sitting around the living room in a circle with hardly anyone speaking.  David knew this so he became the comedic relief.  As he made jokes and the group started to lighten up and finally began conversing.  We started out by talking about the community of WKU and how it has the reputation of being a party school.  Molly and David asked us our thoughts as honors students whether or not we saw the party life much or if we stayed away from the scene.  We all agreed that we ourselves never saw the party but we knew those who did. I told of how the tenth floor of my building was known to be the party floor.  The going joke for the rest of the night was “don’t go to the tenth floor!”  We asked Molly and David one of the Citizen and Self class questions of the class on “how do we make our community a better place in regards to the party life on campus?”  Their advice to us was to stay away from the party life and work to make studying a priority.  They said that the more of us who work to stay out of the party life and worked towards making a life for ourselves, the better the campus would be because of it.  No longer would people come because it is the number one party school in the state, but more would come for the academics.  This reminded me a lot of the Paying for the Party reading that we read in class.  That college is divided up into two different categories, those who are there to party and those who are there to study.  Most of the time these two kinds of people do not mix well together, and often time they to do not interact at all or the two groups go head to head a lot.  This makes sense as to why us being honors students, we had never seen the party life.  We continued to talk about how we might better the campus through getting involved in different clubs and student government.  Trying to be involved and taking an active role was a huge part of the evening.

Finally, after an hour of sitting around the coffee table, we moved on to the dinner table.  Molly and David had prepared two bean lasagnas as well as an arrangement of fruits and rice.  As we ate, I jokingly asked if it would be alright if I recorded the conversation of the dinner table.  That became another ongoing joke for the rest of the night and I was called the spy for the rest of the night as well.  For the next hour and a half as we ate we contemplated the required question, “What does citizenship mean to you?”  Molly and David’s answers were similar to their answers about the party life.  They continually talked about the importance of taking a part in your community.  Playing an active role in your community.  Going out and campaigning for the things that you’re passionate about and helping make the world, especially your community, a better place.  They talked about the importance of helping out those in need, helping out your neighbors, and getting to know your neighbors so that you can help ease their problems.  However, they also said that being an active citizen is different for everyone because not everyone has the time to do all these things.  They told us that the different ages have different parts to play in citizenship.  That the young have more time and energy on their hands and that they can still work and volunteer more, whereas the older generation have less time and more money so they can donate their money instead of their time.  But everyone needs to donate something.   And these things weren’t all you can do.  “Now, you’re recording this still right Brady?” David asked.  Molly and David were the living embodiment of everything they talked about.  They had campaigned, they had helped out their neighbors, and they gave money to charity whenever they did not have the time to volunteer themselves.

I learned a lot from this dinner as well as from the experience itself.  I learned how to interact outside of my comfort zone and learned how to interact with those whom I did not share the same opinions.  I learned how to effectively use the skills that Citizen and Self gave me to argue an opinion in a calm and effective manner. I learned how to interact with different conversational styles, including those very eager to share their thoughts and opinions. I learned how to see things in a new and exciting way.  I learned that I am not living up to my potential as a citizen, and that I need to be more involved in my community.

Our dinner may not have been incredibly insightful, but it definitely was one of the most interesting and one of the most diverse.  We had people from all over the east coast represented in our dinner group.  We had two from Indiana.  Three from Kentucky.  One from Washington D.C. moving to Kentucky.  And one moving to D.C.  All of us from different walks of life that found each other for this one night to discuss citizenship.  That is something special.  Each of us changed a little there that night I think and I am thankful that the rest of my Kentucky Kitchen Tables got cancelled, so that I could spend my Monday night with these wonderful people.  At the end of the dinner we had been there talking for over two and a half hours.  I went in dreading this experience of meeting these strangers, and I came out having a new and exciting outlook on citizenship.  Not many people can say that about their Kentucky Kitchen Table.  None of us wanted to leave that night, but alas all good things must come to an end.  Thank you, Molly and David, for having us that night, you truly made it a wonderful night and experience.  “Recording over.”

KKT Meal

By Antonio

It was a Monday night: April 17th, to be exact. I found myself eating dinner with a family that I had never met before. It was for an Mahurin Honors College course and we were expected to have a discussion about the meaning of citizenship and the values that we hold dear. I’ll admit, I wasn’t all that excited about the project, but I felt that I would learn from the experience nevertheless. After all, I had spent nearly a whole semester reading different articles about the benefits of deliberation and how discussion is a useful tool for discovering other perspectives on major issues. Prior to the assignment, I had only really done this with people my age. It would be the first time that I would thoroughly learn from the perspectives and insights of experienced adults.

The assignment brought me to the cozy home of Allen and Alisa in Alvaton. What a full life they’ve lived! Allen is a true renaissance man. In addition to previously and extensively serving in the military, he is heavenly involved with the International Center in Bowling Green, travels to the United Nations annually, and is an avid hunter. He has done medical volunteering in Panama, traversed through Central America across the Pan-American Highway, hunted game in Africa, and once lived in Britain. He is knowledgeable about both Christianity and Islam and speaks some Spanish. At one point, he even ran for office. Not to mention he was a college roommate of my professor’s father! Alisa is an avid reader, a devout Christian, a proud grandmother, and a former German speaker. She has moved everywhere alongside her husband and once coordinated a mission trip to Guatemala. She is a wonderful cook and made some delightful mashed potatoes, green beans, and deer steak: which Allen hunted. Although she insisted that we not bring anything, I brought some rocky road ice cream. It complemented perfectly with the caramel cake she made! Also at the dinner was Annie, a sophomore at WKU that studies Arabic, Spanish, International Affairs and Political Science.

Annie and I began the discussion with a fundamental required question: beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you? For Allen, one of the most important parts of being a citizen was becoming informed. He was very concerned about how the American people are either misguided or unaware about the current state of political affairs. He mentioned that people will say they don’t watch the news because of the negativity or how they don’t attend town-hall meetings even for important topics like budget spending. Allen felt that people should care and need to care more often. He mentioned that an ill-informed citizenry was a primary concern of the Founding Fathers. Given the times, the worry seems warranted.

Another concern of Allen’s was that there is an issue of Americans not knowing their history or basic aspects about citizenship. Alisa agreed and they both mentioned a study that had asked STEM majors at the University of Texas a series of citizenship questions. For example, “Who fought in the civil war?” Supposedly, a disheartening number of students could not give an answer. Alisa noted how immigrants often learn that sort of information when they become naturalized American citizens. She mentioned some friends who had recently took their test, and, supposedly it was hard. Luckily, their friends were heavy readers and likely passed. In addition to the importance of being civically informed, Alisa felt that citizenship also meant becoming involved with the community and government at all levels. Given their history of volunteering and activism, it seems that the Youngmans have taken their definitions of citizenship to heart.

After a lengthy discussion on citizenship, we then moved on to another interesting question: what social issue is closest to your heart and why? Immigration was an issue that was dear to both Alisa and Allen. The reason was that they felt that xenophobia and suspicion of immigrants was a long-term danger and that it conflicted with our identity as a country. As a latino, it impacts my family directly. I expressed my frustration that despite our heritage, some members of my family have voiced vigorous support for Donald Trump. Allen mentioned that, unfortunately, it is a common cycle: immigrants who have settled here for a long time eventually start to grow distrusting of other immigrants. Looking back on the discussion, it makes me wonder what sort of culture we have created in this country: one that embraces diversity or one of clear division?

The previous question inadvertently brought up a discussion on fake news and how the concept has changed our perception of current events. Allen said it perfectly: before, there were simply different sides of an argument. Now, we don’t even know what the facts are. We also talked about how the advent of the internet has made it easier to fall victim of confirmation bias. To avoid this, Allen, as a liberal, reads a variety of news articles… including Fox News. Again, this family practices what it preaches.

The next two discussion topics were generally positive. For Alisa, the best thing about our world (1) is that young people since 9/11 have been willing to fight for our country. Allen agreed, and talked about how many young Americans go to war and come back severely injured and mutilated. Despite this, they keep their ambition and their willingness to fight. He also mentioned that our generation is smart. I really appreciated this, as it’s rare that people say good things about our generation. I was able to relate particularly with Allen and Alisa in that we wanted to live in a kind of community that is diverse (2). Diversity was a value that the Youngmans especially held dear. They reminisced about when they lived in Washington D.C., how their neighbors came from all over the world, and that there were many international restaurants in the city. While they value the refugee population in Bowling Green, they felt that Kentucky just did not have a high level of diversity compared to Washington D.C. In addition to being diverse, they also wanted an educated and inclusive community: something they found in Bowling Green as shown through the Unity Walk. In my short time here, I am impressed by how much these values matter in the city. By making WKU accessible and teaching Chinese in elementary school, accepting a vibrant refugee community, and fighting for change in the Fairness Campaign, Bowling Green has made a true effort to embrace these values and is a community that I’m proud to be a part of.

As our conversation came to an end, we asked the Youngmans what advice they would give to people running for office. Alisa mentioned a local politician who ran for a position when she was younger. She valued that he funded his own campaign, avoided using flyers, and served with integrity. While she does not trust politicians, she recommends that they follow his example. Allen noted that successful politicians are often very personable and can keep a good sense of humor. Thus, he implicitly suggested that candidates should take on those traits. As I was hearing this, I couldn’t help but think of Trump and Hillary. It reminded me of my Trump-supporting friends who admired that he funded his own campaign. On the other hand, Hillary was simply not a relatable person: a trait Saturday Night Live took full advantage of skit after skit. That said, the Youngmans gave sound advice: have integrity, be personable, and have a sense of humor. Of course, it never hurts to fund your own campaign as well.

I learned a lot that night, but what I think I learned most was that you just never know the depth of a person’s experiences. Just looking at Alisa and Allen, I would have never guessed that they had been to so many places or had helped so many people. In a similar spirit, I learned that it’s possible to have the stereotypes of one political ideology but have beliefs that follow a completely different political philosophy. The Youngmans joked that they’re the most right-wing liberals out there. After all, they come from an older generation, live in rural Kentucky, support gun rights, and are churchgoers. As stereotypes have it, this just screams conservative. Actually, they are very progressive: they support LGBT+ equality, reproductive rights, and the acceptance of refugees. In essence, the dinner was a reminder to not judge a book by its cover.

This assignment really related well to the class’s key question, how do we live well together? As Keith Melville put it in How We Talk Matters, “politics is, in many ways, about how we communicate with each other.”  If we don’t take the time to honestly communicate and to try to understand how our fellow citizens think, we won’t have the opportunity to learn from their experiences, to debunk deceptive stereotypes, or to hear ideas and perspectives that we have never really thought about before. In other words, when we take the time to talk, we make an effort to get to know each other and to establish a mutual understanding. These are ideas that have been discussed extensively in my citizenship class and that’s exactly what we did at the dinner: as former strangers, we decided that citizens need to be informed and that our society should be diverse. And, once again, I was reminded to look past stereotypes. It was a blessing to have had the opportunity to meet Allen and Alisa. I’m glad I took part in this assignment and can’t wait to gather around again at our Kentucky Kitchen Table.

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Dinner with Annie, the Youngmans, and my not-photogenic self

A table of unfamiliar faces

 

By Josie

A dreaded Monday. As usual I was expecting to run through the motions of my typical Monday routine. My exhilarating routine includes going to class, studying, and eating. Then I remembered my dinner plans with strangers. I was nervous about the dinner I had to attend later that night and I was also nervous to be riding there with a stranger. I did not recognize any of the names and I called my mom frantically asking what I should do. She calmed me down and gave me the recipe I needed for the cookies I needed to start preparing for the dinner. I started wishing I could have done this project back home in Marietta, Georgia instead of with six strangers, but I was already committed.

The first stranger I met was Hunter. I awkwardly waited outside of Minton for him to pick me up. I was not sure who I was looking for so whenever anybody drove by I tried to ask if their name was Hunter. Finally, Hunter leaned out of a car and asked me if my name was Josie. We quickly introduced ourselves and made our way to Molly and David’s house off of Hampton Drive in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Hunter and I arrived right on time and I was happy to be greeted by such friendly faces. David immediately came outside and greeted us with warm welcomes.

I placed my homemade cookies on the counter and then sat in the living area with everyone else. Molly introduced herself and offered us some corn salsa and guacamole. I will admit I was too nervous to eat any of the food. I was worried I would take a bite of food and that would be the immediate moment I was addressed and then there would be a dramatic pause. I am quite dramatic when I am brainstorming all the ways something could become embarrassing or stray from the intended path. I guess you could say I enjoy when things go smoothly and according to my intended plan. However, it looked delicious and I was hopeful dinner was going to look just as good. David and Molly introduced themselves more thoroughly once we all were gathered around the living room. David is a creative writing teacher here at Western Kentucky and Molly is an author. I observed David had a pen clipped on his shirt and later found out that this is because he want to have a pen on hand in case he ever had a brilliant idea or some sort of inspiration. Next, us honors 251 students introduced ourselves. I began and everyone was shocked to hear that I came to Western Kentucky all the way from Georgia. Hunter, who picked me up, introduced himself after. Hunter is from Harrodsburg and is a biochemistry major. Next, Brady introduced himself, I was happy to see a familiar face. Brady and I didn’t know each other but were familiar because we have English 200 together every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Brady is from Paducah, Kentucky and is majoring in entrepreneurship with a minor in theatre. The conversation was awkward at first but this sparked discussion about different landmarks and counties in Kentucky. I tried to follow, but I am no Kentucky native. We also had two other guests who were not Western Kentucky students. Samantha is a senior at Bowling Green High School and she will be attending American University in D.C next fall. Molly introduced her as her and David’s adopted daughter and constantly poked fun at her for going to Bowling Green High School saying it is a “snob school.” Also at the dinner table, we had Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn is a junior in high school thinking about attending Western Kentucky for photo journalism. She is from D.C, so a lot of the conversation revolved around things in D.C that Samantha should experience when she attends American. We also informed Kaitlyn about what Western Kentucky and the community of Bowling green has to offer. I am very passionate when it comes to advocating for people to step outside of their comfort zone and attend an out of state school. That was the best decision I ever made. I am also very passionate about this school because I truly believe it has so much to offer. Kaitlyn and I discussed the opportunities and I truly enjoyed our conversation. Our dinner table was diverse and it made for interesting conversation.

After introductions, the conversation settled down again. David joked around about Western Kentucky and the party scene. He asked us our thoughts and we shared funny stories of things we had seen. The more we talked, the more comfortable it became. After an hour or so we moved our discussion to the actual dinner table. Molly had set the table so beautifully and I was so excited to begin eating. Molly and David prepared a delicious bean lasagna, rice, fruit, and fried beans. We all sat down and passed the food as conversation began flowing. In between bites, Molly suggested we answer our specific question so we did not have to rush it later on. Hunter, Brady and I explained to everyone what our project is and we asked the question, “What does citizenship mean to you?” Molly immediately responded and said she believed it was actively playing a role in your community. She followed up with a story about how she once helped a family in the community with watching their children since the father was away for work and the mother needed assistance since she picked up two jobs. David piggybacked off that comment to say it is important to go out and campaign about things you feel passionate about in our country and the world. This reminded me of the Martha Nussbaum reading we read early in the semester (Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities) where she says that education should make us see ourselves as citizens of the world, not just Americans. It is important to choose what you feel passionately about and seek a way to help fix it, rather than simply complaining. By executing this concept, we can have a much more controlled say over our life. Being a citizen is advocating for what you think is best and taking action. They emphasized how being a citizen is different for people in different stages of their life. Molly and David said that the younger generations have more energy and should focus on the hands-on type of volunteering. Where the older generations have more hectic schedules and if they cannot provide their time volunteering, they should donate. However, these roles are not set in place. Wherever you are in your life, you should make a conscious effort to contribute to the community and advocate for things you feel passionate about. These are not the extent of what you can do to contribute, but they are the ones most of our conversation revolved around. With the presence of special guests, our conversations slowly veered away from the topic and onto other gossip and life discussions.

Although conversation about our required question did not last very long, I still learned a lot from this Kentucky Kitchen Table project. I entered this situation unsure about who I was about to sit down and eat dinner around table in a city I am still constantly learning new things about. I felt unsure about the entire idea. The kitchen table is a vulnerable, yet unifying place. It is a place where people come together, remove themselves from their electronic devices and take part in the present. What could I have to talk about with strangers? I expected to be out of my comfort zone for an hour, however, the power of the present took over and we were engaged in thoughtful and interesting conversation for over three hours. This project helped me remove myself from my comfort zone and engage in conversation with a diverse group and listen to their opinions on a multitude of different topics. I entered the situations nervous about how I would present myself, I did not want to be an impolite house guest. I am extremely self-conscious of proper etiquette and was worried I would embarrass myself, however, as the night continued I found myself more comfortable and my natural instincts kicked in. I became more confident with my natural instincts and was excited that my opportunity to branch out of my comfort zone went so smoothly. My dreaded Monday turned into a wonderful evening with delightful people and amazing food. Thank you, Molly and David, for inviting us into your home and being wonderful hosts.

 

Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Kaleb

On April 14th, I had my Kentucky Kitchen Table at a host table in Bowling Green. The host’s name was Lauren, and the three people at the dinner besides myself were Madison, Nicole, (and technically, Lauren’s two-year-old daughter, Tenley). The only person there I had ever met before was Madison, so the other three individuals were complete strangers to me. Lauren was from New York City and was a married mother of two who worked as a sociology professor at WKU. Nicole, Madison, and I were all three students at WKU. Nicole is a journalism major, Madison a nursing major, and I a CIT major, and all three of us were born in Kentucky. Our group was not exactly racially diverse, and three of us had been raised in similar places, but overall I think there were diverse things about us, we had all had differing experiences throughout our lives and, for the most part, each had a different take on the issues we planned to discuss.

I drove Nicole to the dinner, so on our way there we were discussing how we thought the dinner was going to go. Of course, given the fact that we were strangers were going to be eating dinner with even more strangers, we expected the worst. All the way to the moment we were about to open the door we both expected a very awkward and tense experience, so you can imagine our surprise when the door shot open to reveal Lauren holding Tenley with a huge grin on her face. She told us to make ourselves at home and that she herself was running behind from multiple things she had to do. We saw that Madison had already arrived and had already settled in, so overall, we felt a lot more at ease and ready to begin the discussion.

The first question we began to answer was the one pertaining do the thing we love most about living where we do, and for most of us that was considered Bowling Green. Personally, I still consider myself to live in Hopkinsville, but regardless, the three of us students had different reasons compared to Lauren. We all liked the towns we lived in because they felt like larger cities compared to our hometown. We felt like we were escaping the small-town life that Kentucky is usually stereotyped to have. Lauren, on the other hand, was from New York City so her experience was more of the exact opposite. She thought that living a slower and more simple life was ideal for having a family, even if the initial experience left her with total culture shock. Talking about Bowling Green lead Lauren to discuss her job as a professor and what that meant to her. Since she specializes in sociology, a study of society, she felt like she had an impact on the world and that her work served a greater purpose. She tried to understand societies in order to determine what it was that either helped or hurt peoples’ ability to come together. The rest of us either had no job or worked minimum wage jobs, so the greater importance sort of didn’t apply to us, but we did agree with Lauren’s point.

The next thing we began to discuss was the meaning of citizenship (beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws). Lauren’s answer to this was that the main role for any citizen was to show respect and compassion for others, something that really tied in with her profession. She also tied this into the fact that people when people have a disagreement, yelling biased opinions does nothing as a solution. People should learn to support their opinions and make decisions based on research and facts, not the influence of others. This point was generally agreed upon by the three of us, as compassion for your fellow citizens does seem like arguably the most integral part of being a citizen. The four of us then talked about the extremist views we had been exposed to in our lives and about the clear inequalities we witness in the world. For us that had lived only in Kentucky, we felt like we experienced a lot of radical or extremist views within our hometowns and even within our families, but as individuals who had tried to live beyond that bubble, we were able to rationally analyze and decide things for ourselves.

After this the conversation took a turn towards systematic oppression and highlighting the large inequalities that we can see within our society. We came to a consensus that for some people, opportunities to excel are harder to come by than for others, whether based on racial, gendered, class, or other grounds. With this in mind, we talked about how the idea of an “American Dream” based around a meritocracy doesn’t exactly seem to work. If some individuals start off with less of an opportunity that others, a system based solely on merit would be a broken system. Of course, it shouldn’t be made so that people who are able to excel on their own already should be punished, but that the starting line should be at the same spot for everybody. We talked about this issue from many different viewpoints and all of us had examples of times when we felt that maybe the system had left us at a disadvantaged spot. Overall, this conversation lasted the longest but served as probably the biggest window into how experiences differ.

When asked what social issue was closest to her heart, Lauren said that many were very prominent in her mind. Being involved in sociology, social issues are a main part of her work so choosing was extremely tough. But, she finally said that the most pressing issue for her currently was regarding the Fairness Ordinance in Bowling Green. The ordinance makes it so that people cannot be discriminated against in the workplace or when buying a home on the basis of gender identity or sexuality. As it stands in Bowling Green today, this ordinance has been shut down by the commissioners and doesn’t look like it will be implemented any time soon. This aggravated Lauren because she found it very inhumane to continuously allow discrimination to occur in modern society, especially in a situation where really nobody loses anything to have it overturned. For Nicole sexual abuse was a very concerning topic. She was very concerned with having people become educated to learn what the people around them were doing. Madison discussed sexism that still exists within not just everyday lives, but specifically in the workforce. She has had issues regarding sexism at her place of work, so she believes that addressing sexism would serve to benefit everyone. For me, I did not really comment on this question because I couldn’t exactly think of a social issue that sat closest to my heart than any other.

The main thing that I was able to tie back to the class was the importance of learning to talk to people in an effective way (or work well together), a key theme of being compassionate with others. Of course, this applies to the individualistic conversations people may have. When we talk to each other, it’s important to be respectful and listen attentively to what people have to say. These ideas are outlined in the “How We Talk Matters” reading by Keith Melville. The only way we can achieve a true conversation and exchange meaningful ideas is through deliberative speaking in which all everyone is on equal ground in importance. Even beyond individual cases, I think this idea sort of applies to how groups interact within society. In order to see true equality and change in the world, all people are going to have to approach issues with a clearer head and properly outline their positions rather than arguing nonsensically.

Overall, the dinner was actually a very enlightening experience. Of course, a dinner isn’t going to change my whole outlook on life, but I most certainly walked away with some new ideas in mind. The most prominent being that I as an individual cannot know everything about an area, despite knowing all the facts. This being because of peoples’ experiences that also help define the issue. As I listened to what Nicole, Madison, and Lauren had to say about the issues of compassion and inequality in our modern society, they fleshed out their opinion with more than facts, but also with experiences unique to them that helps them have a better grasp of the issue. This sort of made me think that the only way a person could ever really understand an issue completely, you’d have to analyze every single experience a person has had relating to that issue, basically an impossible task. Nobody can know everything, and we as individuals have to rely on each other to understand the world we live in. That is what I learned from this dinner.

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Alvaton, Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Annie

On a drizzly evening on April 17th, after a rather quiet drive as my maps app took me on the most roundabout course possible to get to our destination, Antonio and I pulled into the driveway of a small house in Alvaton, Kentucky, a community about 30 minutes away from WKU’s campus. We were greeted by Allen, who met us at my car with a German Shepherd on his heels. After exchanging pleasantries, he led us inside where we were greeted by his wife Alisa, two more dogs, and two cats. Their home was quiet cozy, and I had no trouble getting comfortable on their couch and playing with their dogs as we waited for dinner to finish cooking. When we had arrived, Alisa had just put the rolls in the oven, which allowed the four of us time to get to know each other a little before we all sat down at the table.

And, wow, Allen and Alisa have done it all! Through their military backgrounds, they have traveled all over the world and have met so many different people. They have even visited the same college towns in Spain and England where I told them I will be studying abroad next semester. As a result, they always have a story to tell that relates to the topic at hand. We quickly began delving into political topics, something that seems to happen often when I am able to direct the conversation (as a student majoring in International Affairs, Spanish, and Arabic with a minor in Political Science, I have a quite a lot of opinions, as one might imagine). I soon learned that Antonio and I shared very similar opinions with Allen and Alisa, something that I was shocked to discover considering our very different generations. They are, to put it informally, pretty woke.

Both Allen and Alisa showed genuine interest in us and in our passions. After explaining my studies, Antonio told us that he was also majoring in Spanish as well as psychology. Allen was curious about what we both planned to do with our degrees once we graduated and, after hearing that I wanted to work for the UN but have never visited it, even went so far as to invite me to go to the UN with him for the annual conference he attends as part of his job (wow!!!). Allen and Alisa went out of their way to make us feel comfortable and at home, which is a character trait that I soon learned they exhibit in all facets of their live.

As our conversation progressed, we soon brought up questions that may have seemed controversial, but only further showed the openness and acceptance that Allen and Alisa both demonstrate. After a somewhat lengthy conversation about how many people seem to make judgments about Muslims or the Islamic faith in general, Antonio posed a question about Allen and Alisa’s own faith: does your religious identity relate to how you think we should treat other people? To set the stage, both Allen and Alisa are practicing Christians and attend church on a regular basis, and Antonio and I both went to private religious schools in Louisville. Allen and Alisa answered with a simple and straightforward, “yes, in every way.” When asked about how they believe Christianity and the LGBT+ community are meant to interact, they were very passionate about their belief that members of the LGBT+ community are, of course, welcome in their church. Alisa immediately quoted the passage, “judge not, lest ye be judged,” and explained that the desire of their church is to be a safe and welcoming space for all people, regardless of race, class, or sexual identity.

Similarly, when asked what social issues were closest to their hearts and why, Allen mentioned that he was very concerned about women’s reproductive rights. He told a story of how he was once being interviewed for a position and was asked his opinion on abortion, to which he replied something along the lines of, “Well, I think it’s terrible. I’ve never had one, and I’m never going to have one. I’m thankful I don’t have to make that decision because it is a weighty one that is not to be taken lightly, but it’s not my decision to make for whichever woman is contemplating it.” He didn’t get the job, but I appreciated his ability to be vocal about his belief without attempting to force it onto others. Another social issue Allen and Alisa mentioned was “fake news,” which he said is helping to create a misinformed electorate.

This fake news also ties into their response of what it means to be a citizen (besides voting, paying taxes, and obeying laws). They both believed that it is our duty to be informed, about current politics and events as well as about our history as a nation and as a world. Allen believed that, although my generation has a million and one tools at its disposal to gather information, these tools tend to not be used. This, he said, will be detrimental to our society, as political demagogues will take advantage of an uninformed public to advance their own agenda. Both Allen and Alisa mentioned how many people are unable to answer basic questions about U.S. history, citing a TV bit where an interviewer asked basic questions taken from a U.S. citizenship test to many students from the University of Texas (even the really smart ones, like the STEM majors) and most were unable to give correct answers to questions like “Who fought in the Civil War?” or even “Who won the Civil War?” Alisa said that another part of being a citizen is active community involvement at all levels of government, meaning that citizens need to call their representatives, go to town hall meetings, and show a genuine interest in and knowledge of governmental procedures within their communities that affect them and their neighbors.

One very encouraging thing that Allen said to me was that, despite what I may believe (I am notoriously a cynic), the younger generation that is beginning to rise up really is fantastic and really will make a difference, I’m just too close to it to see that. He said that his generation is a lost cause at this point, there’s no way to change their minds about things, but that once my generation comes to power, the world will be different. As someone who is deeply involved in political and social activism but also disheartened by the lack of progress I see, this came as a great relief to me.

Almost everything we talked about over dinner—which was delicious venison Salisbury steak with green beans, mashed potatoes, and the modern day manna that is Sister Schubert’s yeast rolls—related back to our class in some way; from the actual act of conversing with someone with no intention to be right, but rather to just put our opinions out there, to actually discussing how we can live well (or at least somewhat better) together. Dinner with Allen and Alisa showed that although we sometimes vary in opinion—for example, Allen said he was pro-gun—we are still able to find common ground on which to forge relationships. During one part of the conversation, when we were talking about how Islam is often misconstrued, I was reminded of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen (although this book is about race, not religion) in that, like people of color, Muslims must often face judgment, concerns, or different treatment from others that would not be passed onto Christians, or in Rankine’s case, white people. For example, Christians almost always take into account the context of a passage that they quote, and even regard that context as an integral part of understanding that specific scripture; however, many Christian critics of Islam (that I have observed, at least) fail to take into account the context of specific entries from the Qur’an. Partly because it is difficult to understand the context unless you are a scholar, because verses are ordered from longest to shortest, not chronologically or in a story format, and partly, I think, because eliminating the context makes it seem “bad” and gives them a better evidence to prove their point that Islam is wrong.

After we wrapped up conversation over desert, Allen stood at the end of his driveway with a flashlight and helped me back out, while extending an invitation for us to have dinner again sometime. All in all, I had a great time at dinner with Antonio, Allen, and Alisa. The openness of our conversation allowed us to get to know each other, and I noticed that on the drive back to campus, Antonio and I were much more talkative with each other, as well (it helps that my iTunes began playing an artist that we both enjoyed, nos encanta la banda mexicana “Jesse & Joy). It is amazing that in just two and a half hours, you can become comfortable enough with strangers to feel at ease sharing your opinions about rather controversial and deep topics. I wish the best for Allen and Alisa in the future, and may even take them up on their offer to stop by again!

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we cleaned our plates at our table!