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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Connection and Citizenship

By Emily

(Picture on the right shows Kathy-Sue’s housewarming gift…a handmade doll from Shanghai made by one of her friends.)

My Kentucky’s Kitchen Table assignment took place in my hometown of Barbourville on Sunday, November 11. This is a small, rural town of about 3,165 people located in Southeastern Kentucky. It is a place where families stay close and dialect is unique. I would say that people from Barbourville and surrounding are a group of distinct tradition and culture. That being said, everyone at my table is currently living in Barbourville, but we each are diverse in our own ways. I began the conversation by describing myself.

 

My name is Emily. I am 19 years old, a dancer, a student, and a family girl. I am a freshman at WKU, and I do not currently have a major nor an idea of what I want to do when I grow up.

 

I then asked how they would describe themselves.

 

Kathy-Sue describes herself as an American ex-patriot who lived overseas (mostly Shanghai, China) for 19 years. She is a world citizen. She’s 52, single, and she adopted 2 kids from China.

 

Jolene, daughter of Kathy-Sue, is 14 and was born in Hunan, China. When she was a baby, she was left outside of a school then put into foster care. She went with a foster family but was adopted at 10 months old, and she lived in China until she was 6.

 

Reagan, classmate of Jolene, is 15. She has a twin brother. At birth, she was neglected of nutrients because “her brother took all of them”. She was then placed in an incubator beside him for two days, and Reagan says he saved her life. She was born in Barbourville and has lived there her whole life.

 

Lydia, who is my next-door neighbor, is 17 and a senior in high school. She is a farmer, is raised in a Christian home, and plans to go away for college.

 

Deborah, who works with my mom, was born in Pittsburg. Despite her Chinese descent, her family is at least 2 generations removed from China. In fact, her dad’s family lived in Jamaica for a while. She lived her younger life for 12 years in Clermont-Ferrand, France. She went to college at Emery University in Georgia and now works for HealthCore (THE Dr.Oz’s nonprofit).

 

Mark, my dad, is white and a Christian. He is a husband and father and ex-coal miner. He is a decent person.

 

Monica, my mom, is 48 and a public school teacher with 2 daughters. She is married to my dad. Both Mark and Monica have lived in Southeastern Kentucky for their whole life.

 

After conversation and questions about the experiences of those at the table, I dove right into discussion.

 

“Aside from voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?”

 

Blatantly speaking, I never really got an answer from my dinner crowd. Instead, we enjoyed many antidotes and tales of world travels and personal experience. Don’t get me wrong, this made great conversation…but I am getting graded after all. I was stumped as to why we weren’t just answering the question outright. Was I missing something?

 

After thinking really hard about my dinner conversation that “answered none of my questions”, a thought popped into my head. Personal experience is welcome. I remember hearing the words from Mrs.Gish in class and that’s when I realized it was the solution to my dinner dilemma.

 

This reminds me of “The Power of Patience” by Jennifer Roberts that we read in class. I really had to take a step back and wait for the answers to come to me, and I couldn’t help but feeling I was a student who has the assignment of staring at a painting for 3 hours. But I really think I get it now.

 

“Do you know your neighbors? Why or why not?”

 

My mom, who knows most people in Barbourville, could tell you all about our neighbors: what church they go to, where they went to high school, their mothers name, etc. She chimed in with a definite YES. She explained that she knows them because she grew up knowing them, but beyond that, she, my dad, and myself have a relationship with our neighbors. We make small talk after pulling in the driveway and would bring an abundance of casserole in times of need.

 

Some had a different story.

 

“Deborah, what were your neighbors like in France?”

 

She explained that she was attending a school for kids whose parents worked for American companies. She also lived next to them, so of course she knew them. An interesting part about her time in France was that her classmates never asked her where she is from. She explained by saying that in America everyone asks her where she is from (presuming she is from China because she does have traditional Chinese features), and she has to explain that she has never lived in China. In fact, she speaks better French than Chinese.

 

“I hate that question,” Deborah said, “People in France knew I was American because of my English.”

 

This was very eye opening to me. I guess I never understood that it is presumptuous to assume your ethnicity equals your personal origins, but there are so many other factors to observe like language/dialect.

 

Part of the conversation was dedicated to appreciating where we are living.

 

Kathy-Sue told us her adoption story while living in China. She was far into the adoption process. They had already sent her pictures to “accept or reject” the kid, and she thought that was nonsense whichever one they presented was going to be ‘her kid’. Later on, they sent the “Chinese UPS” to give her a letter with details about picking up her child. Child in hand she returned back to America. I remember her describing the day she made it back. When she saw the American flag for the first time, she was in awe. Kathy-Sue says she still gets chills when listening to the national anthem being sung or the pledge being recited. I can tell her world travels has brought a much deeper appreciation of what America stands for. She has seen places where “you just take what you get” when it comes to government. She explained how precious and essential it is to take part in government because so many others can’t.

 

My dad added “and you know when you got that adoption letter that was the only version of a mailing company in China…and it was run by the government, whereas we have many.”

 

If I were to use one word to describe what citizenship means to my dinner table, it would be connection. Everyone is connected in society somehow. We are all connected on a large scale, but more tedious are connections we have in daily lives…the relationships we make with those we are living around. Even one connection we make with someone drives us to be good citizens to others. Maybe you helped someone move houses or made dinner after a loved one died or even simply are in good standing with your neighbors. All are key ingredients to daily citizenship.

 

Largescale citizenships requires a bit more soul searching.

 

Close to the end of the dinner I asked, “What does citizenship look like for you personally in this stage of your life?” I explained by saying ‘my citizenship’ is figuring out how I can contribute to society in the long run by choosing a major I not only enjoy but have talents in. For me, that will equal maximum citizenship.

 

Lydia answered that her citizenship looked like farming. If she can farm her whole life, that’ll allow her to connect with people around the country and give back in some way.

 

Jolene said her citizenship was to build her school’s student council program so students will have more of a voice in her school.

 

Reagan’s citizenship looks like living every minute with a smile because it is a miracle that she is alive.

 

Deborah’s citizenship includes going back to school in order to help translate policies to affective programs like school lunch programs.

 

Monica and Mark said their citizenship looks like giving more of their time to community and church events as new empty nesters.

 

Kathy-Sue says citizenship for her is to continue travelling and investing in the world once her kids are out of high school.

 

This is what citizenship on a large scale looks like.

 

A key question we ask in class is “how can we live better together?” and I would say that connection and citizenship is a key factor in living better together. The more we are connected the more we understand each other’s needs and can address them with actions of citizenship.

 

The fact is we all have something to contribute. The choice is whether or not we are going to contribute that into society. The action of doing so is citizenship. Small or large. In daily life or in contributing your whole life to it. As simple as honesty, as widescale as nonprofit organization. As citizens of the world, we ARE obligated to give what we have in order to create a better society.

Emily’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

My dinner took place in an apartment in IMG_4244Bowling Green on November 8th. I wanted to be able to host the dinner in my own home, but I live two hours away and on campus I just live in a dorm, so my friend Madison was so kind enough to let me use her apartment.  Seven guests were able to attend my dinner. Madison’s roommates Brooke and Lexy came and they invited their friends Callie, Lillie, and another girl named Brooke. While we are all female students at WKU, I think that there are many things about each of us that are very diverse. We all have very different views and we are at different stages in our college careers. Our ages range from 18-22. At the dinner we had pizza, pumpkin pie, chips, bread, etc. Everyone brought a little something and it was a very random assortments of food, but it all worked out! We pulled up chairs around our table and ate our feast.

The only person that I knew really well was Madison. Madison is a senior at Western this year & is majoring in criminal law. I think what makes Madison diverse are her political views; she has a lot of knowledge about politics and really brings some amazing ideas to the table. She is also from South Carolina and has a family of 4: mom, dad, and her younger brother. Brooke is from Chicago and is a junior this year. Brooke has been in and out of school for a while because she had to get major back surgery last year. She comes from a very large family, and family is something that she values a lot. The other Brooke is from Louisville and is a freshman. She comes from an Italian family. She was raised in a catholic home and went to a catholic high school. Brooke and I didn’t know each other before this, but it is really cool because we are both from Louisville. But I went to a public school outside Louisville, so our experiences were very different. Lexy and Lillie are both from Bardstown, KY. Lillie was also raised in a catholic family and she has a big family. Church is something that is very important to her- she participated in many retreats and other church activities. She is majoring in nursing. Lexy is the oldest in her family and has a very close relationship with her family. She is majoring in psychology and plans on being a high school teacher.

I started off at the dinner explaining to them what we have been learning about in class; I told them how we talk about many issues today and what we can do as a society about these issues. I asked what citizenship meant to them, beyond the idea of voting, following laws, etc. We talked about how a huge that that we can do as an individual is to be aware- so many of the issues that go on today could be eased if people just knew what was going on. Brooke said, “I think this goes beyond just being aware with political issues, but I think we just need to be aware of the people around us.” We talked about how our community is so naturally selfish that we often times don’t take the time to understand other people and get to know them. Especially in college, there is so much going on and often times we just think about what we have to do, and we ignore our surroundings. Lillie said, “I feel guilty because I have classes with the same people every day and I don’t even know the names of some of the people that sit near me”.

This kind of got us to the topic of how much technology has affected society. In an elevator its everyone’s natural instinct to pick up their phone because that’s much easier than having to talk to the stranger on the elevator. Lexy talked about how she always tries to stay off of her phone and ask people how their day was. This is something so small, but if more people just tried to talk to people, I think people would be so much closer. If we were closer as a generation, so many problems could be solved. We talked about how depression and suicide if=s often times in result of just feeling out of place, and so often social media and our technology makes us feel this way. Because of how much we have on our phones, it gives us the ability to be so connected and its weird how it can do the opposite effect. We talked a lot about how people try to look picture perfect and have everything together, when in reality this isn’t the case. Nobody has everything together but having the ability to look at people’s profiles comparing yourself to everyone can be so harmful to yourself.

I asked how the how their jobs relate to their role as a citizen. Brooke just got accepted into nursing school and she talked about how she felt like doing her absolute best to bring the best care to people is something that she can do as a citizen. Coincidentally, 4 of us at this dinner are nursing majors, so while talking about this I thought about our discussion in class about empathy in doctors. I explained to them the discussion we had in class whether if doctors should be empathetic (because I feel like this is the same scenario for nurses). In class we got off on kind of a debate trying to distinguish the difference between empathy and sympathy. At the dinner we talked about how it really is important that people in the medical field are empathetic; when you treat people like they are an object rather than see them as an actual person is where so many doctors go wrong. Empathy is being able to imagine yourself in the persons shoes and doing whatever you can for them. In class people said it’s impossible to have empathy for a person if you haven’t been through the exact same thing. At the dinner we all agreed that how someone could even say that is kind of a perfect example how there isn’t enough empathy in today’s society.

Madison wants to go to law school and she explained how being a lawyer would have a huge impact on her role in society. The social issue today of transgender and LGBT is very close to her. She really wants to impact the way that society treats them. We talked about how important it is that every person is treated as a person. No matter how different they are then you, they have every right to this life as you do. People often have very strong political views and they think that we can’t agree on anything, but we can agree that everyone is human and deserves to be treated that way.

All of us at the table come from very different types of family. Madison said that her family always sat down every night and had dinner together, however for Lexy that wasn’t the case. We talked about how coming together and eating really brings a family together, and its actually one of the hard things about being away from home at college. This led to us talking about how at college, one of the really cool things is everyone comes from a different place.

I think that my dinner was very successful. Bringing everyone’s thoughts to the table and just being able to talk about issues going on in society went really well. All in all, we talked about how being a citizen goes way beyond just doing actions like voting- it’s just how you are as a person. Treating people with fairness, being aware of other, and just being kind are simple things, but they often are forgotten. We agreed that we want to be people that are there for others. We want to be people that are loving and caring. In a society that is so caught up in our own needs, we need to remember others.

I learned a lot through this dinner. I didn’t earn a whole lot of stuff I didn’t know before, but I was able to put things in a different perspective. I had never really thought of things like the way that we talked about them; I think hearing other people’s take on something really opens up your mind. After having this dinner, I think I am really going to try to show compassion to others. I need to make that a goal of mine because often times I feel like I get so caught up in myself that I leave out what is really important. I need to put others before myself because when it is all about me, nothing gets built up. I really reflected on how I want to be remembered in society. I don’t want to be remembered for any of the things I accomplished, instead I want to be remembered for how I made people feel. I think I’ve heard that quote before, but it truly is so important- that’s the main goal on a citizen.

Aja’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Aja

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place on November 11, 2018 in a town just outside Louisville, KY. There were six people in attendance: my mother Jenny, my father Jim, my brother Alex, our neighbors Ed and Kristina, and me (Aja). I specifically asked these people to attend my KKT because they were diverse in political and religious identities, geographical identity, and age.

Jenny is a white, middle-class female who identifies as a libertarian. She is a Christian and believes that this influences many of her political opinions. She is a social worker and is currently employed as a social worker by a mental health facility. 

Jim is a white, middle-class male who identifies as a republican. He is a Christian and believes that this influences many of his political opinions and day-to-day life. He works as a financial advisor.

Alex is a white middle-class male who has a moderate position on political issues. He is a senior at Western Kentucky University and is studying Human Resource Management. He believes that being a college student influences many of his political opinions.

Ed is a white, middle-class male who is also a veteran. He identifies as a democrat, but considers himself fairly moderate. He does not consider himself religious in any way. Ed is also a professor in the speed school engineering program at the University of Louisville. 

Kristina (who is married to Ed) is a white, middle-class female who is a democrat. She is involved in local political issues and avidly campaigns for liberal candidates. She considers herself conservative on military issues. She does not consider herself religious in any way. Ed and Kristina recently moved from southern California to Louisville. Kristina was a local shop owner in California. 

I am a female college student who does not identify with a political party. I am studying nursing and hope to work as a Certified Nurse Midwife in a developing nation after graduation. I am a non-denominational Christian and believe that this influences many of my political opinions. 

After getting to know each other a little better, we gathered around my dining room table to share a meal and deliberate current issues. We had a vegetable salad, grilled chicken and steak, green beans from our garden, mashed potatoes, and red wine for those who were over 21 😉 

I started our conversation with the question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” The conversation organically flowed from there. 

Kristina brought up the idea that we have a greater responsibility as citizens of the U.S. than just voting (“which many people still do not do”), paying taxes, and following laws. She said that she holds herself to the standard of donating to charities, caring about education, and recognizing firemen/police officers. When she was an owner of a small boutique in California, she only bought American-made clothing to sell in her shop. I especially loved one thing that she said: “Being an American is being part of a team; finding unity in tragedy. Being neighbors—and not being partisan.”

Too often Americans try to identify themselves with one political party. But being a citizen is so much more than adhering to a certain political party. Ed added, “Republicans and Democrats can usually agree that an issue is an issue. Where they disagree is how to get to a solution.” Jenny and Jim agreed with Ed and Kristina on this. Jim claimed, “We are Americans first. And Republicans and Democrats second.” 

Ed said that duty and honor are important to him. He works in education because he can positively influence the younger generation. He could make a lot more money with his experience in engineering, but chooses to work at UofL because he is passionate about being intentional with students. 

Alex spoke of geographical norms in regards to citizenship. He said, “In the South, knowing your neighbors and being kind to your neighbors is important. Being an active member in society, in your local government, and on a community level is important to be a citizen of America.” Kristina claimed that more people need to travel and experience life outside of America to become active citizens. Traveling to other countries gives you a greater global perspective.

I followed up with this question: “Do you think that Americans have an obligation to less privileged people?” I asked this question because it closely relates to our class question, “How do we live better together?” Do we have a responsibility to others, human-to-human?

Jim and Jenny said that their Christian faith reflects their responsibility to less fortunate people. They give and sacrifice and love because Jesus first gave to them. Ed said that he had a friend in the mormon church who suddenly became very poor and did not have enough money to pay his mandatory church tithes, so he was suspended from the church. Ed didn’t see how religion dictates how people live their lives generously. It seems more like rules and regulations to him. It’s strange because I’m finding that many people who claim they are “nonreligious” are not agnostic, but atheist. Religion and faith often plays a role in one’s life whether they know it or not. 

We then discussed the issue of voting in the United States. Ed brought up the idea that the younger generation (ages 18-26) marches and protests—but doesn’t show up on election day. I also have experience with this; many of my friends march and post on social media for gun control after mass shootings, yet they lack a in-depth understanding of the complexity of the issue. I summarized the article “Green Fire, the Still Point, and an Oak Grove,” where people protested an issue without being informed about it. The adults claimed that millennials just want to be emotional and dramatic about a cause they know nothing about. I claimed that adults know about the severity of issues and yet don’t do anything about them. Which is worse?

This led to a discussion about generational differences. The adults claimed that millennials and gen y/z have lousy work ethics. I told them stories of my friend that works two jobs and is a full-time student and is a member of a service sorority and is pursuing a pre-med degree. 

I told them about how I finished all my high school coursework in 3 years so that I could graduate early. I told them about how I moved to South Asia for 4 months at 18 years old to work with orphanages and human trafficking ministries. I told them my dreams for my life: to spend 4+ intensive years obtaining a medical degree just to voluntarily live in poverty for the rest of my life. I want to do this because I believe that the power of Jesus and simple medicine can transform every tribe and tongue.

Alex told them that he spent nine weeks of his life biking from coast to coast—all the way from California to Virginia—to raise $50,000 for Alzheimer’s research. He did this because he believes in medical research and because he cares deeply for those affected by Alzheimers.

Do these sound like young, aimless people who have lousy work ethics? To me, these stories reflect people who think philosophically—people who are pressing into a deeper meaning of life. 

I told them that our generation perhaps doesn’t understand the value of manual labor. Perhaps we spend too much money on simple things and don’t know how to manage a saving’s account. Maybe we depend too much on the tiny screen in our pocket. Sometimes we are emotional and impulsive and think more with our hearts than with our heads. I see the flaws in our generation, I do. 

But I am also sick of older people telling us that we are a lost cause. The truth is that our generation is brave and innovative and compassionate and daring. We risk and push the boundaries of knowledge. Some of the greatest discoveries have been made by our generation, and some of the greatest people alive were born in our generation. So we don’t need adults telling us that we can’t do anything. What we need is a generation of parents instilling courage and confidence into their kids. 

After I said all this, they backtracked and acknowledged that not all millennials are lazy or entitled, but that is just what our generation is know for. I told them that we are known for being lazy and entitled because that is what has been spoken over our lives since the time we were born. The adults I admire the most don’t chastise me; they inspire me. They don’t point out all the things I am doing wrong; they encourage and believe in me.

To wrap up the conversation, I asked them, “What kind of person do you want to be?”

Jim said that he wants to be a man of integrity, a leader, and compassionate. 

Jenny said she wants to be kind, hospitable, and reliable. 

Alex wants to be a person who thinks philosophically and deeply. 

Ed wants to be a person of influence.

Kristina wants to be strong and confident in what she believes in. 

As for me, I want to be a girl who embodies warmth and conviction and sacrifice. 

Over the course of this discussion, I learned that it’s okay to disagree with someone. I learned that how and where you grew up, your race/ethnicity/nationality, your background and experience, your gender, your religious views, and your political stance all affect the type of life you live. I learned that religion is can be someone’s whole world and also the root of another person’s bitterness. More than anything, though, I learned that people who are aware of issues can be sold out for a cause. There was no “right” or “wrong” comments made at this dinner. There were just six people trying to live better together. 

It is my hope that a group of people walked away from a dinner more informed and more passionate than when they came. 

*Quotes were closely paraphrased*

(Alex is not pictured because he came late to dinner!)

Lily’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

Kentucky Kitchen Table Photo

By Lily

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place at my parent’s house in Bowling Green, Kentucky. We had salad, pizza casserole, Texas toast, Snicker’s apple salad, and brownies for dinner. We had a conversation unlike any discussion that has occurred in in Honors 251.

When first posed with the question “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?”, the table was silent. Citizenship is hard to define without those three things. Answering the question was very dependent on the person and their place in life. Scott, Shaune, Travis, Sam, Murphey, Lorelai, and I were sitting at the table thinking about an answer.

Scott and Shaune, who is my second cousin, have been married for sixteen years. Scott is currently unemployed but worked for PPG for about twenty years. Shaune is a nurse at the Medical Center in Bowling Green. They have an eleven-year-old daughter who is a sixth grader at Plano Elementary School. They go to a Baptist church here in town. Shaune is from Campbellsville, Kentucky. Scott is from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Both went to college at the University of Kentucky.

Travis and Sam are also a married couple. Travis works at Lawn Doctor of Bowling Green. Sam is currently back in college. Travis served in the military after high school. He did two semesters in college but never got a degree. Sam is the daughter of the chemical stockroom manager and the stepdaughter of one of the chemistry professors at Western Kentucky University. Travis and Sam have been together for about ten years, and they got married a year ago. They bought a house recently.

Murphey is an electrical engineering major here at WKU. He is the member of the Big Red Marching Band and jazz band. Murphey is from Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he went attended Greenwood High School. Murphey is a new friend of mine.

Lorelai is a junior at South Warren High School, where she plays the baritone in the concert band at her school. Lorelai is the daughter of one of the engineering professors at WKU. I became friends with Lorelai while in high school.

I am journalism major at WKU. I am from Bowling Green, Kentucky, where I attended South Warren High School. I am a member of the BRMB and attend Christian Student Fellowship events on campus. I go to a Baptist church with my family.

Now, this does not look like the most diverse group at first glance, but it is more diverse than it sounds. Everyone has lived different lives and approaches things differently. Each person’s interests and values make us drastically different from the person next to us. Each of us have learned how to go about life, and its many struggles, in a different way. Scott and Shaune were inclined to give more practical, traditional advice. Travis and Sam gave answers like people who are young and just trying to make a place for themselves in this world. Murphey and I spent most of the time wide-eyed and clueless, uncertain that we really knew anything. Lorelai stared at her plate, feeling that she knew nothing about citizenship because she is only sixteen. The diversity of our group was our differences. So, while it was not a traditionally diverse group, it was diverse.

Once the beginning question was asked, it became clear that no really knew how to answer without including taxes, laws, or voting. Everyone seemed to agree that those three things were a large part of being a citizen, so I decided to ask about what it meant to be a citizen in less of a legal way and in more of a community way. This meant thinking about what we were obligated to do as citizen for our community. Did this mean being involved? Did it mean helping those in need? Did this mean shopping local? What did it mean to be a community citizen?

Shaune said something about how it was about giving back to the community, economically and voluntarily. To be a good community citizen, one needs to be involved in the church they go to, the school their children attend, and the groups that they want to help. It meant staying in Bowling Green and working to make it better. There is a need for the older generation to share information with the younger generation. Everyone seemed to agree that this was a generally good summary of what it meant to be a good community citizen, which felt like a good start.

As previously mentioned, Travis served in the military after high school. I asked what citizenship meant to him, because he was involved one of the most patriotic parts of being an American. Travis knew that this question was coming.

For him, it was not about everyone needing to serve the country. As a matter of fact, he thinks that only the people that really, truly want to serve should and that people who feel like they should serve just because they are able and not because they want to should not serve at all. He did not want to play the “Angry Vet Card” about this. He knew he wanted to join the military, not go to college, when he was a high school sophomore.

This led me to ask about the draft, because, as I learned in elementary school, it is the responsibility of all young men to sign up for the draft when they turn eighteen. I really wanted to know how Murphey felt about this. He really did not want to serve the military; it was not that he was opposed to it, but he did not really feel it was for him. Travis was quick to say that he was very understanding of this and seemed appreciative of the fact.

This led to a quick lesson in the workings of the draft. Essentially, you can sign up for the draft and not even have a chance of being picked. Travis said that men with families and women go to the bottom. Men with kids go below men with wives, and the people with the highest chances are young, single men. I do not think any of us really knew that there is an order to the draft, or, at least, I did not know any of this.

After continuing in this topic for a bit, I decided to ask Lorelai for her opinion. She is the youngest, and she had not said anything at all. I asked her if she felt like she could be a good citizen, or be a citizen at all, since she is not an adult. Her answer was no, she does not really feel like she could right now because so much of being a citizen is wrapped up in life after you turn eighteen.

At this point, I did not really feel like a citizen or an adult even though I am eighteen. Yes, I do go vote, I follow the law, and I pay what taxes come into my life. However, I do not really feel like a citizen when I do these things. Murphey agreed, he did not feel like a citizen or an adult either. How could we really? What were we supposed to do to make ourselves more citizen-like? We did what we could, but did we really do anything special?

This turned to conversation away from traditional citizenship to what it means to be an adult. There were so many questions that seemed to float through the air. What does it mean to be an adult? When do you feel like an adult? Is age eighteen really all that magical? Are we doing everything we can to be an adult? Is the trick getting married? Is it buying a house? Is it having kids? Do you become an adult when you have a real career job?

According to Sam, there is no magical adult moment. She and Travis struggled to feel like adults in their twenties, and they had just bought a house. They knew people older than them that didn’t feel like adults sometimes. There is no one thing that makes “adulting” happen.

This turn the conversation to a myriad of things that most people would consider very adult: lines of credit, good debt, mortgages, jobs, and paperwork. It was an all-out advice session to Murphey, Lorelai, and me on how to be an adult. There were so many things we could do about money that I thought that numbers were going to fly off the beige walls of my parent’s kitchen. There was also some contradicting advice that reflected how each person was raised and how each person had started their adult life. There was a consensus that everyone needed established credit, but how to go about it was a different story. In this moment, I knew that we were not in the same train of thought as any class discussion.

Scott and Shaune thought that it was best to get a store card of some kind and use it a little when you shop there. Then, when the bill comes, just pay it all off. Travis and Sam had an entirely different approach based on the advice they had been given during their house search. Sam had absolutely no credit when she and Travis got married, so they were just trying to make a number appear next to her name when someone checked her credit score. They said charge something to a card that you could pay off, and then pay the minimum every time the bill came to keep that debt there for a while. One day, pay it off. I’ve since been turned away from their advice. However, I feel like it is important to point out that where Sam and Travis have been in life has led them to this point, so they are taking whatever advice they get that fits into their lives right now.

Another thing we discussed was careers, jobs, and staying in the community. We talked about trade school and the university track that Murphey, Lorelai, and I had been set on. I never felt like trade school was an option for me due to a variety of reasons. Murphey said that there had been a time when he thought maybe he could go to trade school and become an electrician. However, he also felt pushed, and pulled, toward college by the world around him, which included school counselors, cultural norms, societal perceptions, and personal decisions. Lorelai admitted to not really knowing what she wanted to, maybe engineering. She also agreed that schools did not really encourage people to go to trade schools unless they were considered not fit for college. Then we talked about job availability and staying in the community. It came back to what it meant to be a good citizen without all the legal stuff.

The idea here was to go where the job is and be a good citizen where you are. Do what you can where you end up and do your best. Maybe citizenship and adulthood are closely related, but that does not mean that you start of as being a citizen and an adult with some magical eighteenth birthday. Citizenship just happens.

Through this dinner, I learned that there is no one easy way to define being a citizen or an adult. However, this information does not pertain to any article, discussion, or theme from class. I do think that what was discussed is important and may come up sometime, but it has not come up in class yet.

Sydney’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By: Sydney

I traveled home to Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, on Friday, November 9th.  I held my Kentucky Kitchen Table the following Sunday, the 11thin my little hometown, Beechmont. Attending my Kentucky Kitchen Table included my mother (Dana), my father (Scott) aka the photographer, my little sister (Maddie), my great aunt (Dee), and my neighbor (Billy).  In a small town, like mine, you don’t really have potlucks…everyone just comes over and helps you cook!  At this dinner, or should I say feast, we had a massive amount of food cooked by great aunt, mother, and father. We had roast followed with mashed potatoes with my great aunt’s homemade gravy, my granddaddy’s garden green beans, the kind of rolls you could eat a hundred of, and of course fresh brewed sweet tea.  I contributed by baking brownies for dessert.  I envied my sister who ended up being our official taste tester.  And you can bet every time we cook this much my dad will comment “We have enough food to feed an army!”

My great aunt, Dee, is from Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.  She just so happened to be in Kentucky for a visit.  She is a retired teacher from Paducah, Kentucky, who moved to Florida to escape the cold Kentucky winters. She also wanted to move closer to one of her two daughters and granddaughter. Her and her husband, whom we all call Big Daddy, loves living in a small subdivision in Santa Rosa Beach.  Dee is an older lady with a younger spirit than my own.  She is fun, quirky, and loves to joke.  She is a devout Catholic and democrat.  I consider her more of a grandparent than a great aunt who lives many hours from me.  She even tried to get me to live with her and attend Florida State!

My neighbor has lived across the street for my house for around ten years.  Even though I live in a small town I have never gotten to know this neighbor beyond occasional small talk.  He is a retired, single (divorced) senior citizen who loves golf, Nascar racing, and hanging with his buddies at their hunting cabin.

My sister, Maddie, is a thirteen year old who attends Muhlenberg South Middle School.  We butt heads like normal siblings would, but we do have a goofy relationship.  Then again, our whole family is full of comedians.  We joke with each other, laugh at the simplest things, and keep the best inside jokes.  She is a spit-fire from the day she was born.  She is very care-free but has a huge heart.

My father, Scott, grew up in Muhlenberg county.  We now live only 3 minutes from his childhood home, where my grandparents still live.  He was in the army during the time of Desert Storm and is now a veteran.  After his time in the military, he attended a technical college in Bowling Green.  He worked at Logan Aluminum, and then got a job closer to home at Tennessee Valley Authority (Paradise Plant).  Due to TVA changing to gas plant instead of a coal plant, my father is now moving all around different plants in the southern states, such as Alabama and Tennessee.  He is currently in Memphis, Tennessee which makes anytime together special.

My mother, Dana, also grew up in Muhlenberg County.  After high school, she attended Western Kentucky University for elementary education. She was first a kindergarten teacher, then a first-grade teacher, and recently she is Muhlenberg South Middle School’s librarian.  She loves her family, wiener dogs, and anywhere with a beach.  She is the most empowering woman that I know.  She would do anything for anyone in a heartbeat, and I aspire to be more like her every single day.

As everyone begins to fix their plates and settle at the dining room table, I didn’t want to bombard them with the questions right off the bat.  I did tell them beforehand I would ask a few questions for a class but nothing too extensive.  So, the typical conversations begin to strike up.  Of course, they ask me about college.  I explain my classes and how I am doing.  I also talk about the fun I have with friends, such as taking midnight trips to GADs.  Scott tells Dee and Billy (who don’t hear about his travels often) about the sketchy hotel he has to stay in for work.  I wish I could tell it the way my dad does.  He is the best of painting stories to their brightest color and has the ability to make anyone giggle.  Dee tells about the recent weather that has been happening in Florida.  She had to board up all of her windows and doors due to the hurricane!  I ask Billy about his recent trips to the Sapp Farm hunting cabin.  He tells me all about huge potluck that was throw by his friend, Tim.  He said they had steak grilled to perfection and baked potatoes the size of my head.  And of course, Maddie stays on her phone afraid she’ll miss a text from a friend, you know the middle school phase.

After casual small talk and updating everyone on each other’s daily lives, I began to ask the questions. So, I asked the required question first, “beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?”  Everyone seemed a little stumped and sat to think for a minute.  Maddie chimes in first being in that middle school phase she says she doesn’t even know what citizenship is (which is a lie).  I can see my mom get frustrated and tells her that she does.  Dee cuts in saying that citizenship is doing whatever you can to helps others. Anything from picking up trash to helping hurricane victims.  Scott agrees by saying everyone needs to contribute for the greater good.  He added that he thinks it means protecting our freedoms which Billy says that is what he was thinking.  He thinks that citizenship is about us being free and being able to go wherever he wants to go when he wants.  Dana adds that she thinks it means being a part of a big, good community.

Other than the required question I asked a few more that were included in the packet.  I thought I would include the best conversations and answers.  When I asked what they thought were the best things about our world today, Dana and Dee were quick to say the kind-hearted people.  Which really reflects on the type of person they are because they are most kind-hearted people I know.  I also asked what they loved the most about where they lived.  I said that I loved being with my family.  I am blessed to be able to go home to my mom, dad, and sister whenever I need to.  Billy agreed with me.  He said he is so glad to be close to his granddaughters.  He loves to visit them frequently.  Dee chimed in that she loved being in the sun and sand.  I asked how they thought their job related to their role as a citizen and how it serves a greater purpose.  My mom had the best answer saying she is glad she is able to help shape young minds and mold them into productive people.  When I asked what kind of person they wanted to be, the answers got a little goofy as I said earlier my family is full of comedians. Scott is quick to say he wants to be a rock star.  However, he did get a little more serious after the laughs died down.  He said that he wants to better person to help his kids and to help his family.  I also asked if anyone had a conversation with someone very different from their own background.  Scott talked about when he was in the army and he had to travel especially during Desert Storm.  He said he has talked to people from Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Israel. The best comment of night came from my sister.  I asked what advice would you give your neighbors.  She said something along the lines of that she didn’t know what kind of advice because our neighbors are older than her, and they should give her advice instead.  Coming from my sister this received many, many laughs.  As you can see, small town dinners can go on forever!

As I am writing this post, I am thinking how our conversations related to our class.  I kept coming back to our empathy week.  My mom, sister, and great-aunt mentioned that they wanted to be kind and have a caring soul.  However, oblivious to their own selves they are the most kind and the most caring people I know.  Growing up with them I have learned the importance of a big heart.  During our empathy week, I didn’t really see myself as empathic, but I would think about my mother.  She would give the clothes off her back to a stranger, and I am proud to be her daughter.   She feels for everyone and cares too much.  However, the reading “The Baby in the Well” says we must yield empathy in order to have a better future.  I believe those with an empathetic heart, like my mother, make the world a little sweeter.  On another note, my conversations also related to the class’s central question “How can we live life better (or less baldy) together?”  Looking back upon the dinner I realized that with my family and neighbors behind me I have more support than I’ll ever need.  I also saw the importance of kindness to everyone.  This allows me to have hope and look forward to my future. I learned that staying close to the ones you love and getting to know those you don’t very well are the best ways to go through our world today.  Connections are the way we can live our lives the best way possible.

And by this photo, you can tell none of us are very “photo-ready” individuals.  However, sometimes the photographer can be quick to take the picture, but at least his photo is decent, right?

From left to right: Maddie (my little sister), Dee (my great aunt), Billy (my neighbor), Dana (my mother), & Sydney (me)

Second picture: Scott (my father & photographer)

Lauren’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

 

KKT
By Lauren

I completed my Kentucky Kitchen Table on November 11, 2018 in my hometown of Bardstown, Kentucky. It felt very good to be home with my family for this experience because I have missed eating homecooked meals with them every night less than a year ago. For dinner, we had roast with dinner rolls and for dessert, we enjoyed delicious brownies along with milk. The aspect that made this group diverse was the ages of everyone ranging from 12 to 69. Something that we all have in common is the religion we practice, Christianity. In attendance were my dad, mom, grandma, sister, and me. My dad, Sean, is a 45-year-old and a father of 3. His job title is a Chief Administrative Officer at his work. He is a follower of Christ who is very optimistic in all situations. He graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with his bachelor’s degree. My mom, Margaret, is a 42-year-old and a wonderful mother of 3. She works at the Bardstown City Schools system as a teacher. She graduated from the University of Kentucky with her bachelor’s degree as well. My grandma, Mary, is 69 and a wonderful wife, mother, and grandmother. She is a former chemist and a former teacher. She enjoys reading, learning, quilting and gardening. My sister, Ainsley is 12 years old in middle school and is the youngest of 3 sisters. Ainsley can be described as a musician and a runner. I, on the other hand, am an 18-year-old attending Western Kentucky University and am in the process of pursuing a doctorate degree in Physical Therapy. I am also a musician, runner, and a very driven individual. Our middle sister wished she could have been there but was not able due to a prior commitment.

To begin the discussion, I asked the question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” This was a very thought provoking question and my family responded with strong, thorough answers. Margaret was the first to answer and she saw citizenship as taking care of your community, as well as treating others the way you want to be treated. She stressed the importance of looking out for one another. An example of this that she used would be helping your elderly neighbors complete tasks that may be difficult for them (something that she does herself). Sean also answered the question with an emphasis on being an active community member. In addition, he discussed citizenship as having pride in where you’re coming from and having patriotism. Mary brought a different point to the table that freedom and democracy was what citizenship meant to her. She introduced the idea that when immigrants gain their citizenship here in America, it is very important to them to share with others and on documents that they are legal. Her point that she was trying to make was that America is a country that many people want to be a part of because of its democracy, freedom, and opportunities that it offers. Ainsley talked about how the free country in which we live offers many opportunities for everyone. She mentioned being able to get a job without the issues of race or religion arising. Overall, this question was important to begin with because it opened many doors of conversation regarding the other questions listed.

            I continued the conversation with asking the question, “What do you think are the best things about our world today?” This question allowed for various ideas to be shared. Mary believed that medical advances were a huge advantage to our world today. She explained that had she been born earlier than she was, she probably wouldn’t have been alive. She said that she had an appendicitis when she was younger, and the doctors had just figured out a cure for it before she was diagnosed. Another health issue that she faced was a high-risk pregnancy with my uncles. She really expressed how thankful she was for the medical advances through the sharing of her experiences. Sean appreciates the advances that technology has made. Even though he said he does give social media a lot of grief sometime, he realizes the importance in that it gives everyone the chance to stay connected.

            We then moved on to our next topic of “What is the thing you love most about where you live?” The consensus of the group was that they all chose to live in Bardstown because of the close-knit community that exists, the location, and the family we are here with. Mary has lived in many different places, one of them being Lebanon. She spoke about how the people there were very “clannish” and rude to her and her family. Margaret added in that she loves the location and is able to travel to a larger city within 40 minutes. Sean liked that the majority of our family lives here and that we have roots here. My dad was fortunate to grow up in Bardstown and still have his parents live here. This brought us to our next topic of eating together around the table with family growing up. I have grown up having dinners around the table every night with my family, for which I am very thankful. I do, however, realize that many individuals do not have the opportunity to experience this tradition. Everyone in my family also had the privilege of eating as a family every night. Margaret mentioned that if one of her dad’s friends popped in at dinnertime, they were always welcome to stay for dinner. Mary enjoyed cooking for her husband’s friends as well because she said there were no expectations for the dinner if they just stopped by.

            Another question that we discussed was “Do you think we have any obligations to other people in our country? In our community?” This question wasn’t answered directly, but the complex issue of welfare did arise. We discussed how there are people who become dependent on welfare and how there is no incentive to break the cycle. The church, however, can help you build relationships with those who need God the most. That is why we concluded that we should rely on the church and followers of Christ to help these people out of their hard times. Margaret stated that if we are a Christian, we have obligations to help our community. This statement is something that was very important to us and something that we all agreed upon.

            A question that brought up many points for conversation was, “Have you ever had a conversation with someone from a really different background than yourself?” Mary talked about her experiences with those from different countries in the labs in which she has worked, and these people would tell her, “Americans don’t know how easy they have it.” Margaret was an ESL teacher, so she came into contact with a lot of people from different backgrounds. They respected our religion and our way of life. She also brought up the mission trip that we both attended for two summers in the poorest parts of Eastern Kentucky. The families had opportunities to leave, but they never did because they wanted to keep their land… even with the awful conditions. She reminded me of how when we took the kids that attended our bible school back to their home, they wouldn’t even acknowledge their parents and would hop right on their bikes and leave. This was a very different way of life and it was sad to witness. Ainsley spoke about her classmates that are of different backgrounds and how that there are language barriers at time, but they do get along with everyone. Sean chose to share his encounters with someone from Ghana who attends our church. The man who Sean was talking about is highly educated and his Biblical knowledge is amazing. Coming from a country like Ghana, you can tell that he is very grateful for everything that he has.

            All in all, this discussion accompanying the dinner was very beneficial in that it helped me learn the views of my family for specific topics regarding citizenship. Some major points I could take away from this discussion were the true importance of being accepting to all backgrounds and leaving a footprint in your community. Citizenship means something deeper than just voting, paying taxes, and following laws. I loved the openness of the discussion and hearing stories of my family from when they were younger because it is something that I have not had as many opportunities to listen to. The sharing of everyone’s experiences reminded me of what was discussed in class – testimonies being epistemologically significant. This project was a prime example of how much our experiences really do contribute to the knowledge we encompass. A reading that the Kentucky Kitchen Table reminded me of was “The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail.” Not only did I realize the true importance of testimonies, but also sharing stories with emotion. This is because you’re speaking to the person’s elephant that is controlling the emotions. Speaking to someone’s emotions will get you further in deliberations and solving issues, so it is something that should be utilized in complex discussions. I am grateful for this opportunity and I look forward to learning more about my family along with their views.

Kylee’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Kylee

My Kentucky Kitchen Table project took place on November 11 in Bowling Green, Kentucky at one of my close friend’s house like 10 minutes away from campus. Her mom was nice enough to host us for a home-cooked meal. The meal was chicken puffs (crescents with chicken in them), mashed potatoes, peas, corn, and for dessert we had vanilla milkshakes. The people at my dinner were: Maria, Izzy, Ally, Halle, and Cory. Maria, Ally, and Halle are all in the same sorority however, all come from varying backgrounds. Ally is from Louisville and went to a large public school. She is the oldest of two siblings and came to Western to major in public relations. Maria, Izzy, and Halle are all from Bowling Green but all went to different high schools and have diverse family backgrounds. Maria is the youngest of two girls and went to one of the public schools here in Bowling Green. Maria is currently undecided at Western. Izzy is one of 4 siblings and her parents are separated. She went to a different public school from Maria in Bowling Green. Izzy is majoring in accounting. Halle is an only child and went to the same school Izzy went to. She is planning to either be a nurse or elementary education teacher. Cory is the father of Halle, who I got the pleasure to meet the night of my dinner. Cory has lived in various places of Kentucky throughout his life and often travels a lot for his job as an insurance office director. I had even learned that he frequently traveled to St. Louis, where I am from, for business.

To begin the meal, we talked about our day and general get to know each other type of questions. This allowed everyone around the table to better know one another and create a more comfortable environment to deliberate. To dive into the Kentucky Kitchen Table experience I began by asking the big question: Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you? The conversation took a little time to begin as they noted that to them citizenship typically means voting, paying taxes and following laws. Having the meal closely after the election brought up a lot of points about voting and being able to voice one’s opinion to be a citizen. However, when we dug into the question more, the conversation truly began. Izzy was the first one to note something. She said that citizenship can mean to preserve the country in which one is a citizen. Many were curious as to what this was meant to say and asked for examples as to how we, as citizens, can preserve our country. Cory brought up the idea of climate change and how in order to care for and preserve our country we need to be concerned with global warming and its effects on the people. This was a unique idea to all of us because it is literally preserving the physical country in which you are a citizen rather than the governmental infrastructure. They said that we can choose to do little things in order to potentially create a big change as a community. Such little things as recycling and population control were noted to benefit our community, therefore, making one a better citizen. This was intriguing to me because in class we read different articles about what we can and cannot to for climate change. I thought about the article, “Why Bother?” in which it noted that we are too late to make a change when it comes to climate. I brought up the point saying that we could potentially be too far gone that out small actions wouldn’t even make an impact. Many were astonished by this idea but understand the concern of how things may be too far gone. The agreement and disagreement were done in a very mature manner as we discussed climate change and how this could impact citizens. Understanding the idea that an individual’s actions may not specifically make a big enough impact to cause change many argued that a whole community could create it. They simply said being a better citizen starts at a community level. This became a common theme throughout the topic of conversation. They noted the idea that if a whole community made a change due to the way they handle the climate, then it could potentially have a greater impact. Taking the conversation away from climate control, many said that one needs to better the community in order to fully live out the rights of a citizen. This could mean educating the community. For example, having community workshops where people are taught the basic ideas of our government. They could be able to better understand what is being said on the news about things happening in the government and how our laws have impacted decisions over time. Becoming more educated on America and how the system works could help many in the community feel as if they are achieving the standards of being a citizen. Ally even noted a valid point saying that if all communities were to take a small step into educating and informing their people, America would benefit in the end. America would be filled with citizens informed and ready to fulfill their duties as they see fit. In conclusion, citizenship meant to be educated and to make change happen in one’s community so that could impact greater things.

I continued the conversation by asking what is good in the world today and what is bad. It was astonishing to see the number of bad things people thought of before anything else. It was so easy to come up with bad things happening today- war, racism, sexism, mass shooting, etc. Yet, there were very little ideas of good things happening. Many thoughts about things in their own lives that they could say was good, nothing related to the whole world or the country as a whole. I asked what could be changed to reduce the bad in the country and many brought up the idea of gun control and how that could limit the mass shootings. Izzy and Ally jumped on the idea of gun control right away noting that this social issue was the most prevalent in today’s society of being an American citizen. They noted how they feel that there needs to be reform when it comes to gun control and this change needs to happen at the national level. They brought up the idea that being a citizen is expressing their ideas gun control was an important concept that they wanted to see change brought to. Communities can try to implement ideas but ultimately it would be the national government making the change. Others around the table agreed with their opinion saying a modification is necessary with the amount of mass shooting occurring in the nation. As citizens, they are wanting the best for the nation as a whole. However, they still feel as it would need to be more than their individual self to have a big enough voice to change the governmental view as a whole. We still came back to the idea that communities and bigger groups need to come together to find a change rather than a single individual.

I found this whole process of the Kentucky Kitchen Table to be eye-opening. Being able to hear many different ideas about issues and get to know people better all around a traditional table and meal was fascinating. I feel like in the society we live in we are always busy and doing something, there is rarely time to sit down, have a meal, and good conversation. When the meal was all done, the people around the table felt like they had opened their eyes to new ideas and found new perspectives on what being a citizen truly meant. They all thanked me for the unique opportunity, even Cory who I had just met. He had felt like it was educational for everyone involved. I was happy with the outcome of the dinner and the conversation. There was no real place in which the conversation lacked, everyone always had something to add or say to contribute.

Throughout this project, I got to experience a new way to deliberate. Rather than the typical classroom setting and the same people each time, it was very different. It seemed more casual all around a kitchen table while we ate. Each person was still very considerate of one another and respected each other’s viewpoints and ideas. No one was completely against someone else’s viewpoints, they each understood every angle that was mentioned. Despite the questions and ideals, we talked about to be “wicked problems” with no clear answer, we continued to think or ideas or ways to better some problems with society and the ideal of citizenship. They truly wanted society as a whole to be able to work, and live, and solve problems better. Even though people have varying opinions of issues if we can agree to disagree and acknowledge everyone’s right to an opinion maybe everyone could live better together.