By concept, the Kentucky Kitchen Table project just seems like an awkward situation to me. I questioned whether or not I would enjoy this experience. Although hesitant, I tried to keep an open mind so I could get something out of the dinner. Little did I know, this experience would become one of my favorite memories from this class.
My group consisted of Luke (a Biology pre-vet major from Harrodsburg, KY), Alex (an Agriculture major from Gallatin, Tennessee), Ethan (a Broadcasting major from Nolensville, Tennessee), and our host, Emily (a grad student and former Honors College student). We all brought ingredients for chicken tacos, which Emily made. We started out with a little small talk while waiting on the food. Once the chicken tacos were done, we moved into the living room and started our discussion.
We jumped right into the conversation with the question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Emily believed that citizenship means being a part of a community and really owning your identity within that community. The language we use to define citizenship and self is like a market; it’s a cost-benefit analysis. We ask “Is what I’m putting into this community the same as what I’m getting out of it?” This mindset leads to believing that if you didn’t get enough from your community yesterday, then you won’t be inclined to contribute to it today. We have to go all in and take the risk that we won’t receive as much back, but also staying wary about into which communities we’re giving our all. We can’t put our all towards every group we come across, or else we’ll be spread too thin. At the same time, though, we can’t isolate ourselves.
A lot of our discussion had to do with our identity, or as Emily would call it, our story. We talked about how college challenges every part of our identity we though we knew. All of us are some denomination of Christianity. Luke is a Methodist. Ethan is a Baptist. Alex was raised Southern Baptist, but just identifies as Christian. Emily is Christian, as well. I am Catholic. We have all had our faith shaken and identity put into question while in college. We discovered that, even though Alex and Luke are seniors and Ethan and I are freshmen, we are in similar situations. Alex and Luke will soon graduate and go into the workforce where their identity from college will be tested. Meanwhile, Ethan and I are about to finish our freshman year, where we’ve had our high school identity challenged. We decided that no one comes out of college unscathed—meaning no one leaves college as the same person they were when they started. Even though we will be pushed to our limits in college, we will come out stronger. This will make us realize, as Emily puts it, which identities are stronger and which are weaker. She explained this by telling us a story from her junior year. During Emily’s junior year, she was a good girlfriend, good best friend, and good student. When she was hit by a car, however, she lost all of that. When she felt she lost all parts of her identity, she realized the parts of her that are meaningful—the stronger parts of her identity.
The takeaway from this is that we must defend our identity, our story. Citizenship is a story. How we act in our community and how we contribute to our society is a part of our story. Therefore, we need to become better storytellers. We need to find the best way that we can contribute to our community—whether that’s our family, our church, our city, or our country—and own it. In doing so, we solidify our identity, become better storytellers, and fully participate as citizens.