Homemade Pizzas and Home-style Conversation

By Jacob

For me, the Kentucky Kitchen Table Experience begun even before I expected it to. Our host, Christian, lived in Franklin, Kentucky, which was about thirty minutes away from Western Kentucky University. In order to save gas and hassle, I rode along with Conner, who I knew from my section of Honors 251, and Ally, a girl in a separate section of Hon 251 whom Conner already knew. After a quick detour to Walmart to pick up some miscellaneous pizza toppings (mushrooms, pepperoni, and pineapple) and some ice cream for dessert, we set off for Christian’s house. We all quickly got to know each other and dove into conversation, Earlier in the week, I had my gallbladder removed due to a rather painful 2.5 centimeter gallstone. Conner, being on the pre-med track, was interested in the process and asked some questions about my experience. Ally shared a story involving her rehabilitation following extensive ligament damage in her knee. We also discussed the election results of the week before, which was made more interesting by the fact all three of us voted for different presidential candidates (one for Donald Trump, one for Hillary Clinton, one for Gary Johnson).

Soon, we arrived at Christian’s house. After a quick discussion confirming we were at the right house, we went inside. There we were greeted by Christian, her partner Chuck, our fellow Honors 251 student Madeline, and two very large, very friendly dogs. After a quick tour of the house, and the expected awkward lull, conversation began in earnest. Christian is the Sustainability Coordinator at WKU and one of my main focuses as a Political Science major is in renewable energy policy. We started discussing a recent paper I had written detailing a potential initiative by the Department of Energy to increase funding and subsidies for renewable energy sources. Conner jumped in the conversation and shared his experiences as a member of the Student Government Association Sustainability Committee, including initiatives to decrease waste as Fresh Food Company and Subway. I also discussed my plans of going to law school with Chuck. Chuck is a former Marine who was attending law school before taking a job with Veteran’s Affairs. We talked about the opportunities afforded by a law degree and our shared interest in legal studies.

Eventually, we began to prepare the pizzas. Deciding on what toppings to put on each pizza helped open our conversations up to everybody in the room. Throughout making the pizzas, I got to better know Ally, who once wielded a firearm to dissuade a man from stealing a trailer, and Madeline, a Bowling Green native who knew the area far better than I. By the time we sat down to eat, we had already been making conversation for nearly two hours and were well acquainted with one another. We then set out to address some of the questions posed to us in the handout packet, beginning with: “What does citizenship mean to you?”

Chuck began the discussion by drawing on his military experience overseas. To him, the safety provided by our soldiers is the greatest part about citizenship. Being able to walk down the street without fear is something that doesn’t exist in many places around the world and he is thankful he lives in a country where he can. Ally and Madeline both said that American citizenship is about being able to express and practice what you believe, specifically regarding religion. Ally cited several examples of Christians facing persecution throughout the world. Christian shook up the conversation with a more local view of citizenship, telling us the stories of three women in Bowling Green who are creating change at the local and community level. I followed up with the opinion that citizenship is about being part of a larger whole. Each member brings something unique and valuable to the table and together, by using their strengths, they can create a better community for themselves and their neighbors. Conner also focused on the necessity of working together and meeting people where they are to form a strong and efficient community. The different backgrounds and perspectives of all at the table was eye opening.

Next, we talked about “What is the best thing about the world today?” All of us agreed that technology, globalization, and increased communication were all changing the world for the better. We can make more effective medicines, hear news from around the world nearly instantly, and travel almost anywhere. Along the same vein, I brought up how I believe the best thing about the world today is how we are always moving forward and always striving to be better, never satisfied with where we are. Christian and I talked about how that is an important mindset to keep moving forward, given the surprising results of the election the week before.

After dinner, we reverted back to our casual banter and conversation. Chuck and I went into the living room to watch the end of the Cowboys-Steelers game that was on while the others stayed in the dining area. After talking about football for a while and finishing the game, we joined the rest of our group in the dining room to clean up. Then, cookies and leftovers in hand, we bid farewell and walked back to Conner’s car.

Overall, I was very satisfied with my Kentucky Kitchen Table experience. Any awkwardness quickly fell away to reveal a diverse set of experiences that we all could learn from. We had very diverse political opinions and varied in our views of the world, but were easily able to find common ground. Unintentionally, we never discussed our political party affiliations but instead focused on our personal experiences, beliefs, and values. Without these labels to confine us, it was easy to discuss our differing opinions in an openly and in a constructive manner. Successful deliberation always begins with an open mind, and for at least one night in a kitchen in Franklin, Kentucky, we were able to do just that. kkt


Connection brings the beauty in citizenship.

By: Hilarie


Rudyard Kipling once wrote that, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” What an incredible statement, he’s making. If you think about it, the things that we hold nearest to our hearts are the stories that maybe a parent or grandparent told us, a story that we’ve heard that really touched us, and for most of us, our own unique stories are all at the center of who we are. Stories are the unique connectors, the webs that are woven in order to unite people with each other, stories are often the building blocks of citizenship. Recently, I was able to experience a night full of exchanged stories, a kind of scattered dinner, and the building of friendships amongst people that truly surprised me.

At this dinner were five of us, each very unique. Of our group were myself, Rachael, Brent and his friend Tan, and our generous host Jennifer. I set up the dinner with Jennifer as I met her earlier this summer when we worked on the Ceremony for New Citizens together. Jennifer is the perfect example of what it means to be a citizen in a community and I thought she would be an excellent match for each of our group members’ interests. She graduated from college with a degree in Political Science, and her husband teaches Political Science here at Western. She is a devoted mother, and citizen as she does very intensive work with the refugee population here in Bowling Green. She does everything from organizing an intercultural soccer team for refugee children, to helping refugees adjust to daily life by attending driver’s tests, court cases, and doctor’s appointments with different families. If I were to model my life of service after one person, it would certainly be Jennifer. I have been getting to know Rachael and Brent more and more through our class, but it was eye-opening to learn more and more about them as we sat together to eat dinner. I was so happy that Brent brought along his friend Tan, as he was a new face for me to meet and his perspective was refreshing in our conversation. He has incredible talents and a spirit that is infectious. Over the course of this night, I learned how much Rachael and I are alike, from our love of feminism and literature to our desires to start a girl band, (which we are totally going to do.) I think I may have thrown Brent and Rachael way off because I don’t really like pie, but they accept  me for my ice-cream loving self and that’s a form of citizenship in itself. Rachael is incredibly insightful and kind and is exactly the kind of person that I need and want in my life. If anything, this class brought me a friend that is a girl after my own heart. Brent is also incredibly awesome, like I’m pretty sure that Brent is one of the coolest people that I know; he’s compassionate, incredibly aware, and full of surprises.  I feel like both Rachael and Brent would like to be described as students and citizens who are hungry for change and development in our world. Both of their hearts and minds are on fire to make a difference, which is what makes our friendships work together so well.

The bulk of our conversations, aside from the required questions and introductions was about Jennifer’s work with refugees and about each of our unique desires and ideas about the world. It was actually a very interesting dynamic that our group had as we bounced off each other’s ideas and built upon what each of us felt. It was a conversation that I have been missing in my daily life. I sometimes struggle with finding people to truly discuss and learn from, and this conversation certainly filled a void that I was missing. We briefly touched on the election, which actually wasn’t terrible to do. All of us were pretty much on the same side as who we thought should be elected, but we spent a small bit of the time discussing the other side and why each of us thought people voted the way they did. I think this is crucial; if we don’t take time to truly discuss the side that we aren’t on, then how do we find the common ground when trying to make progress for what we believe in? It was refreshing to take a moment and recognize the differences in the world as we were seeking the similarities amongst our group. We also discussed with Brent’s friend Tan what it was like in Vietnam and how culture was different from what he was experiencing here in America. His perspective was beautiful to try to understand. Global citizenship came up frequently in our discussion, as everyone at our table, aside from myself, had studied abroad. As I have yet to experience that form of citizenship, I truly learned complex ideas from the different abroad experiences that each of my friends have had. As I find may similarities amongst each of us at the table, we are all incredibly diverse as to how we want to change our world. The stories we each shared opened my eyes to the possibility and hope for our world, and people like Brent, Rachael, Jennifer, and Tan are the ones that will be forces against the nature of where we are today. I think the biggest thing I learned was just how important it is to discuss, not necessarily debate, but just interact with one another. I think we get way too caught up in making convenient exchanges with people that we forget to take the time to have thoughtful conversations. As one topic progressed in our conversations, diverse thoughts and beautiful ideas surfaced, allowing each of us to develop our own thoughts in concordance with each other. It was like building our own web of connection through the expression of our thoughts. I think this is exactly what our class was trying to teach us: how to live well together, how to solve problems, how do we change and evolve? We connect. That’s the most important thing. Connection leads to empathy, empathy leads to helping hands, helping hands lead to a little more love, and that love and acceptance of our fellow man, leads to one of the most beautiful things imaginable: citizenship.

Citizen and Self has been an eye-opening class for me, even when I have been scattered and not on top of things, it’s made me truly analyze what it means to be a member of a group and what it takes to make a difference. That’s the citizenship part, the part that has completely changed my idea of what being a citizen is, the part that has revolutionized my own plans for my life. The other part of this class is discovering myself in ways that I hadn’t thought of discovering. I think that we, as humans, are constantly on the mission of discovering ourselves. As I discover ideas and thoughts about our world and the people that connect it, I also discover something new about myself everyday. There are many things that I long to discover, things like how it is that one action can influence so many things and how different people seem to always inspire something. I find the most interesting things to discover are the abstract things that constantly change from day to day. I think that conversations like the one that I had around our table are the ones where you can simultaneously discover new things and recover old things that you knew and learn how to apply them. Taking the idea of talking around a table; something that we’ve all done, at least, once in our lives, and then combining it with the newness of strangers turned inspirers, is how I’ve found connection amongst myself and this new community that I’m a part of. I hope to continue to discover the ways that I, as an artist, student, citizen, and friend can grow. I realize that I have so many things to learn, I am just beginning to uncover them, and the best way I know of to learn is by feeding off of others and one of the most amazing things that I long to discover is how I can be an active voice in a group of like-minded, but also diverse individuals. This project helped me to discover a little bit more of that, and so has this class.

Elderly Dogs, Citizenship, and Chicken Nuggets

By Zach

Through this Kentucky Kitchen Table experience, I was able to go back to how I normally eat dinner during the holidays with my family, listening to each other and discussing how our years have gone usually encompasses a majority of our dinner. Since being at Western Kentucky University I find it hard to actually have those sit down conversations with people which go beyond just small talk because that is basically all we have time for. Although I had never met McKenzie prior to the Kentucky Kitchen Table I knew it wouldn’t take long for us to open up about our school lives, future plans, and other topics relating to the Honors 251 course.

Aubrey and I had already begun to open up about our lacking cooking experience and I will admit I gave her a hard time about not being able to make no-bake cookies, which she had promised to bring, and instead bought the cookies at a store a few hours before hand. After arriving at McKenzie’s apartment we soon realized we were not the only ones with minimal cooking abilities because we were welcomed with every college student’s favorite dishes, chicken nuggets and mac-n-cheese. The biggest surprise was when one of the most energetic dogs I had ever been around came up to me and began to beg for food, his name is Johnny Karate. Johnny would soon become the center of attention for the rest of the night.

Other than Johnny Karate, I did not see much diversity seeing as Aubrey and I were from the same hometown and McKenzie was from Shepherdsville, Kentucky. But the more I thought about it the more I saw that we are much more different than I had previously supposed. I am a biology major while Aubrey is an undecided major and McKenzie has graduated from Western Kentucky University (and the Honors College) with a degree in psychology. These differences in majors show how diverse our interests are from one another. Being raised on a farm in Northern Pulaski County with one younger sibling, I have a much different view of the world as compared to McKenzie who grew up in an area around Louisville is the oldest of five. I didn’t see much of a connection to be made with talk of what we all wanted to do with our majors, or in Aubrey’s case what types of majors would be enjoyable, so I was ready to dive into the recommended questions for discussion.

When I sat down I could not help but notice a pro-Hillary Clinton coloring book. Now being an outspoken Trump supporter I had questions rolling through my head about why she would pick Hillary Clinton to support but Aubrey had already told me before dinner that I should probably refrain from any political discussions just so we could keep the night going as smooth as possible. I decided not to bring up the issue explicitly but rather implicitly.

One of the major questions we discussed stemmed from the recommended questions in the handout which pertained to what we thought the best thing in our world today could be. McKenzie seemed to have an answer already prepared for this question seeing as she hardly hesitated when she replied that social media was one of the most beneficial things we have in society today. McKenzie acknowledges social media can be used to harm others self-esteem and may be used as a vehicle for bullying to occur. She stands by her stance of social media is more beneficial than harmful simply because social media allows people from across the globe to communicate in a way never seen before in history. I can see how social media benefits humanity in how it allows the transfer of experiences to people from completely different backgrounds.

Even though I realized McKenzie and I had differing views on who should be the next person running our country, Aubrey, McKenzie, and I all had similar views on social and humanitarian issues at hand. A required question was “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” McKenzie’s answer was spot on in how she believes we have an obligation to help others and those who cannot help themselves, yes that includes elderly dogs. McKenzie as well as myself believe no matter how small our efforts are; we can make a difference in our communities. I could see this idea relating to Pollan’s “Why Bother?” article in disagreement with what the articles theme is pushing for in that no matter what we do unless everyone participates nothing will change.

Another conversation I found interesting stemmed form the question of “Do you know your neighbors?” McKenzie stated that she was more of an acquaintance with her neighbors. I can understand why seeing as she does not necessarily have anything in common with her neighbors other than that they live in the same apartment complex. Growing up in a rural community I was very close with my neighbors, however, my neighbors and I had a majority of the same background so it seems easier to get to know them and become close. When taking on college I have noticed that it is much easier to get to know people who are much like yourself rather than reaching out and finding people with differing backgrounds and opinions. Through my experience in the Honors 251 class, I see that it would make for a more educated outlook on problems we face as a society.

As the night came to a close I realized I had most likely thrown over 100 balls for Johnny Karate and although he seemed to be exhausted he kept bringing the ball back and begged for one last throw. Aubrey and I helped clean up the leftover food and thanked McKenzie for having us for dinner. After reflecting on the night I understood how diverse our group actually was outside of our race or other physical features our opinions are what really defined the diversity of the group. Aubrey, McKenzie and I had a wonderful time with insightful conversations about elderly dogs, citizenship, and chicken nuggets.


Puppies and Pumpkin Cookies


By Madeleine

On November 13th I drove to Franklin, Kentucky to have dinner and share conversation with a group of people whom I had never met before. I was nervous to say the least.

Christian- Our gracious host. She is the Sustainability Coordinator for WKU and the owner of two incredibly playful and hairy dogs.

Chuck- Christian’s partner. An ex-Marine with a strong dislike for pineapple and spinach  pizza.

Connor- A Louisville native who loves Game of Thrones and is a senator at WKU.

Jacob- A Cincinnati native who had recently gotten his gallbladder removed.

Ally- From rural Lexington and an expert on what to do when someone is stealing your trailer.

Me- A Bowling Green native who thoroughly enjoyed the vegan pumpkin chocolate- chip cookies.  

Growing up my family hardly ever ate dinner together and our kitchen table was more of a place to set up homework or do school projects. Most nights I would be the last one home, coming from dance or work and I would go upstairs to say goodnight to my mom and little sister before reheating whatever they had made earlier. When we did have meals together it was done quickly so that we could get to our next activity or go do homework. The conversation never went past what we had done that day or what we had going on tomorrow. I had no idea that some people actually hold conversations and debate opinions at the dinner table. I was excited but very nervous about eating with people outside my family and trying to hold a conversation with people whom I’d never met.

I was the first to arrive even after first showing up to the wrong house (her neighbors are very nice people). I was greeted at the door by a smiling Ms. Ryan, two giant dogs, and the smell of cookies. A few minutes later Connor, Jacob, and Ally arrived. Connor and Jacob were both in class together and Ally knew one of them from another class, plus they had all driven up together so I was already feeling very apprehensive. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded as we quickly fell into casual conversation with everything from the elimination of the use of styrofoam in Fresh to how to make the perfect combination of pizza ingredients (Mushrooms and tomatoes go well together.) After the pizzas were made we got a tour of Ms. Ryan’s beautifully remodeled 1940’s home. It was amazing to hear about what it used to look like and how much work she had put into it for eleven years.

When it was finally time to eat we went into the dining room, put hand tie-dyed napkins in our laps, said grace and quickly tucked into our four amazing homemade pizzas and homegrown salad. As we ate we discussed the first question in our handout- what does citizenship mean to you beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws? Chuck started the conversation by talking about how his view of citizenship is directly influenced by his experiences in other countries as a Marine. He discussed how amazing it is to be back in America and being able to walk down the street without being afraid that someone is waiting around the corner waiting to kill him, The safety in this country that we sometimes take for granted is what makes citizenship so important to Chuck. Next, Ally talked about how citizenship means the certainty of religious freedom without the fear of persecution. She discussed how amazing it is that we have to freedom to not only worship freely, but we also get to choose what we want to believe in without fear. I reiterated how amazing it is to have the freedom to practice the religion of my choice freely and also touched on how the opportunity for education is also central to my views of citizenship. Living in America gives me and others the incredible opportunity to continue our education. This is especially important to me because in other countries women and girls are not allowed to go to school, or speak their minds, or do anything other than make babies and do housework. I wake up every day knowing how privileged I am by being able to go to school and learn about things I am passionate about.

Next, Christian discussed how citizenship to her means participating in your community and how important it is to be passionate about something. She told us about a paper she had just written about community involvement and about how one of the three women she highlighted in her paper helped homeless people not by just showing up with food, but finding out what they truly needed (clothes, money, a place to sleep, etc) and then helping them get or find that. This can relate to our class in how we discussed how to try solve wicked problems or even just emergency situations by listening to what is needed instead of just doing what we believe is best. Jacob and Connor both gave a more general, world-wide definition of citizenship by discussing how people need to use their strengths in order to contribute effectively in the community in which they live. Before we had to go we briefly discussed the pressing issue of gun violence which I was happy to be able to be a major part of because of the social issue project  am working on in class. Lastly, we all talked about how we think technology is positively affecting the world today. In a world where so much negative attention is put on technology, it can be easy to forget the amazing benefits that comes with it. We all agreed that technology enables us to have a global economy, makes it easy to learn about other cultures that makes us more accepting individuals and easily accessible education on any topic you can think of.

Speaking of technology, by the time we finished eating I glanced at my phone for the first time and saw that I had several text messages from my cheer coach wondering where I was. When I first arrived I had been constantly checking my watch to see when I needed to leave but later was surprised that I had gotten so enthralled in the conversation and the incredible experience that I had totally forgotten about my phone and cheer practice. I guess that’s what this project was truly about. Meeting new people and learning new things, not only about other people and the world around you, but learning where you stand on issues compared to others. Through this I was able to hear about people’s personal experiences that shaped them into the people they are today, such as growing up in rural Kentucky, or going on several tours to Afghanistan. Hearing these stories made me think back on my own life and made me ask myself why I believe what I do. Why am I passionate about certain things?

In conclusion, I sincerely enjoyed this project far more and learned more about others and myself than I ever thought possible in a short three hours. Thank you so much to the amazing Ms. Ryan for opening up her beautiful home, Chuck for keeping us laughing all night and my fellow Honors 251 students for asking thought provoking questions and making some super good pizza.

Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Elizabeth

Last week I had the pleasure of sitting in and sparking conversation with a whole host of new company. Mary and I were welcomed to dine in the home of Keaton, Kat, and Tori. Joining us were fellow friends of theirs, Andrew, Gabby, Hayley, and Ashlyn. One benefit of being the new member of this diverse friend group was that each person got to paint themselves in whatever light they wanted. When asked how they liked to be described the answers involved both physical characteristics and core values. Andrew likes to be seen as a very tall gentlemen who was raised in Tennessee and has a background with horses. Gabby unlike the rest expressed one of her fatal flaws by stating she get ‘hangry’ quiet often, a slang term coined to express anger brought on by being very hungry. However she is fairly quiet at first but opens up when surrounded by familiar company. I am glad she was surrounded by friend too because she had great insight into some of the prompted questions. Hayley wants to be known for her humorous side which relates to her idea that she is fun to be around, which I can second after being in her company. Keaton most admirable qualities consist of her dedication and passion to do the right thing while keeping a positive outlook. Ashlyn in proud of her big smile and described herself as an avid extrovert. Hayley on the other hand is more meek and but will defend her point of view in a respectable manner when she feels necessary. Tori said that she is known for her candor and loyalty, never afraid to speak her mind, which added a lot to the discussion. All though it was a female dominated group a great source of diversity was found in the political views, social economic upbringings, and religious affiliations of the people sitting around the dinner table. Even after hoping in with different questions the unavoidable and controversial political debate which is so prevalent at this time dominated conversation.

However, the fundamental question of our class was what initially facilitated conversation. When asked, “What does citizenship mean to you?” Andrew started by answering very straight forward. He said it means doing your part and being good others. As I suspected the first answer would only scratch the surface of a more in depth answer but I was appreciative he was the first one to step up to the unorthodox table topic. Tori seconded Andrew but slightly caught on to the fact we might have been looking for something deeper and added that citizenship means being able to have a voice in society. She went on to express different ways she’s involved. By being involved in community through big or small parts you have a voice. She is involved in intramural sports and a sorority and volunteer work which makes an impact on the way society functions. After others expressed similar opinions that related to different ways each of them is involved and the way they give back, Mary steered conversation by bringing up a similar question, “What kind of person do you want to be?”  Regardless of what setting Mary and I would have been in, I think this question is what brings most people to a general consensus. This is also where I found a strong connection to our class and the material we have been reviewing. Each answer was inspired by an idealistic view of striving to be someone that is liked and respected. Just like in the class we are working to reach common goal by commutative input, each person have a common goal of who they want to be. The main difference is in the way were try to get there. Although the conversation to did move towards the a step by step game plan on how to accomplish this goal I think it is beneficial to be reminded that we are all striving for the same end game.

Diversity was seen again when religion was thrown into the mix. Both parties agreed to we should treat people justly, but where they drew their moral guide from was not the same. The people who identified as religious were Christian and those who were not were either agnostics or atheist. It was about a fifty fifty split.  Under the circumstances of a group or people that already willing associate, this controversial topic of religion, which lead into politics, was very civil. The agnostic perspective thought religion should not be the say all of what determines how we treat people. Interestingly enough, Mary and I’s friendship embodies the Kentucky kitchen table dynamics we had set up. Mary was able to relate to the agnostic point of view, while I resonated with the side of the discussion who pulled their view from religious back grounds. The Bible was reference by Gabby when she said how she values the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. Ultimately this influenced the discussion toward what obligations do we have towards others. This is when politics found their way into the mix. Each person believed that the government and we as individuals have an obligation to treat others with fairness and kindness. However remarkably so as much as we might be able agree upon this as a society and a small group around a dinner table the feelings toward the elections still varied drastically. Even though I am rooted in a strong political stance like most it was refreshing to hear each person’s perspective discussed with such respect for others. On the one hand about half the individuals confessed to voting for Trump while the others half was in unison against Trump. Those in favor of Trump were goal oriented toward economic change that they believed would serve the general public. Those against Trump believed he stood for values that would deteriorate this society. Although the majority Trump supporters could sympathize with their friend’s feelings they still held true to their beliefs. In the end no one was thrilled with the state of affairs our society had been thrown into due to the election. As much as I wished the common ground could be that of rejoice it was not. The meat of the conversation came to a conclusion when we asked, “In retrospect of this how do we live better together?” Andrew mentioned that we must both respect the outcome of the elections and each other. While other might have not mentioned respecting the outcome of the elections all voices at the table agree on respecting their fellow citizens.

After sitting in on a group of people I had never met before, I learned that at the end of the day we are always more similar than different. If we look for similarities we can always find them and if we look for differences the same is true. What is important is that we emphasize our similarities. In regard to David Brooks’ take on the moral framework of today’s youth, discussed in his New York Times article, “If It Feels Right…” I would say these types of conversations prove him wrong. Not every meal is oriented around in depth discussions, but the fact that we can have one and express our opinions with respect and thought out reasoning is what is important. The elephant and the rider (from Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind) were also prominent in the group discussion because people reasoning were rooted in the way the felt about the topic. I hope that these talks and hearing others similar goals with facilitate more thoughtful discussion that will continue to help this world answer the question of how we live better together.kkt

Citizenship, Democracy, and an Elderly Dog

by Aubrey

4553061df8884f608358b38576cdfe48As a college student, I am constantly on the go, seldom able to make time for much of anything other than the tedious tasks that being a college student entails. I eat my meals hurriedly between classes, seldom taking the time to talk or even sit at a table. So when I was required to do the Kentucky Kitchen Table project for Honors 251, needless to say I was out of my element. However, through this project I was able to gain a valuable experience that I will always remember. This experience had an incredible impact on not only me, but also my classmate, a former Western Kentucky University student, and an unexpected furry guest that contributed equally as much to the night as the rest of us did.

When Zach and I first arrived to McKenzie’s apartment in his enormous truck, armed with nothing but prepared questions for the night and a few more-hastily prepared side dishes, we had no idea what to expect for the night. We walked into the apartment unprepared for the greeting we were about to receive. As soon as we opened the door, we were not-so-viciously attacked by an adorable elderly dog known by the name of Johnny Karate. It was obvious from the start that Johnny and McKenzie were good friends, and that this dog would be an important part of our dinner.

When I looked around at our faces, I did not see much diversity (unless you count the elderly face of the beloved Johnny Karate). I was confused as to how we would have different perspectives as we seemed to be a lot alike. However, as we began to discuss, I realized that in many ways, we are more different than alike. We each had our own experiences and backgrounds that shaped us into the people we are today. Therefore, we were each able to contribute greatly to the conversation with unique perspective and ideas.

Zach, for example, was raised on a farm in Pulaski County, Kentucky, graduating first in his class at Pulaski County High School. He is a biology major, with hopes of using this major to further plant-related science. McKenzie is the oldest of five children, raised in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. She is a graduate student at Western Kentucky University. She graduated Western Kentucky University with a psychology degree, and hopes to work with corporations in this field. I also hail from Pulaski County, graduating first in my class at Somerset High school. I was raised in a very political family, with my dad being the Pulaski County Judge Executive. Unlike Zach and McKenzie, I have no idea what I want to major in. However, that did not stop me from enjoying the good food and company of these people who have their lives a little more figured-out than I do.

When we first sat down to eat, it was at first a little awkward. However, there is no awkwardness that chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese cannot diffuse, so the awkwardness subsided quickly. After looking at my surroundings, I started to get a little bit nervous. On the coffee-table, there was a pro-Hillary Clinton coloring book. I began to panic on the inside, as I thought of my fellow classmate Zach, who is an open and avid Trump supporter. I knew that some of the questions we would be discussing would be politically charged, and I was nervous about someone in the room getting offended.

This nervousness was in vain, as no chaotic political bar-fights broke out throughout the night. What did break out was good, democracy-related conversation. It turns out that even though we may have different political views, we all have similar views on humanity and compassion. When asked “What does citizenship mean to you?”, we all were able to agree that this meant helping out those around you, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. I was able to relate this back to The Golden Rule, which states to treat others as you would like to be treated. McKenzie took citizenship a step further, by saying that we should not only be compassionate to the people around us, but also to the living things. The ears of the elderly dog, Johnny Karate, surely perked up a bit as this point was brought up. It was very clear that the elderly dog population is important to McKenzie, and her heart is big for the living things, human or not, that have the opportunity to be a part of her life.

We also discussed what we thought were the best things in our world today. McKenzie brought up the point of social media. Although social media is often used maliciously, it can be a great tool to connect with people in our world. Because of social media, it is easier to communicate with others than ever before. It is also a great way to see other people’s perspectives. This means that if you believe one thing, social media makes it easy to see someone else’s perspective about that issue, making it easy to be more open-minded. Zach and I were also able to connect social media to the election. Because of social media, we were able to stay more informed and aware of the candidates and their stances on the issue. We were all able to agree that social media was, overall, a great part of today’s society.

When asked what social issue was closest to our hearts, we all had different answers. For McKenzie, the important social issue for her was elderly dogs. She believes that all dogs deserve love, and the fact that elderly dogs are as neglected as they are is heartbreaking. After spending the whole night playing fetch with Johnny Karate, I could easily see why this issue was important to her. For me, the answer was racism. This has not always been the case, but through my participation in Honors 251, I have seen that racism is a much bigger issue than I had ever seen before. I have become more aware of racism in my everyday life, and have since felt convicted to make a change. Despite the fact that our passions about social issues were different, we were all able to see each other’s perspectives and recognize these problems.

After returning home from this night of discussion, I realized how grateful I was for this project. Although we may not have been the most diverse group of people, we all had important things to say. As we discussed citizenship and democracy, I realized that despite difference in political views, we all have similar concerns for citizenship and how we live well together. This experience has been one that I will never forget, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for Zach, McKenzie, and Johnny Karate.

Cate’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Cate

For my Kentucky kitchen table project, I, along with two other students in my Honors 251 class, went to a host table that Ms. Gish assigned to us. At our table was Nate, the host, who is a former math teacher who now preaches at a Disciples of Christ church. This is the second year he has volunteered to let students have dinner in his home for this project. The other two students there were Zachary, who is active in his fraternity on campus, and Abigail, who is majoring in Biology and loves science.

When Abigail and I arrived, we all sat around the table with drinks to get to know a little about everyone before we began our meal. These introductions ended up taking about an hour, and I got to learn a lot about Nate, as well as new things about both of my classmates. Nate was very open about his past and told very funny stories about taking an extra year to graduate because of how often he was “chasing a girl,” and how he eventually reconnected with the girl who he would marry. He was also very open with talking about the death of his wife, and when he spoke about such a hard time with so much candor it really made us connect with someone who we didn’t actually know that well. Throughout the entire night, Nate was extremely honest with us and I appreciated this a lot. I also learned new things about my classmates and where they are from. Zachary is from Louisville, while Abigail is from a smaller town, like myself. She actually lives on a road named after her family, which is something I see all the time where I’m from and I think is so neat. One thing I appreciated a lot was how Nate strived to make connections with each of us. He used to live in a town near Abigail, so they talked about that. We also discussed how, after the death of his wife, he would often go to Barren River Lake to take time and reflect and think. I actually live on the lake and asked if he would stay at the Lodge, which is 15 minutes from my house. He said he did and it was just fascinating to be able to know that this person who I never would have known is so familiar with the place I go to all summer to play sand volleyball or go kayaking. This summer, the Lodge finally reopened the beaches after years of not having sand, and Nate was just as excited as I was. Another way we could relate is that Nate said he always liked to stop and eat at a really good Barbecue place when he was headed to the lake. I immediately knew he was talking about Rib Lickers, as I had spent a year working there. It was just interesting to know that I was in this man’s house who I didn’t know, eating food he had made, when I had probably served him food and never even realized. This idea of the importance in connecting with someone is something that Nate would later discuss in depth once we had started our meal. Nate had prepared a traditional Italian meal of garlic roasted chicken, salad, corn, and spaghetti. Abigail, Zachary, and I had shown off our culture by bringing the staples: chocolate chip cookies, rice crispy treats, and cupcakes.

As this was the Monday after the presidential election, that was a topic bound to arise. Abigail mentioned how she was really glad that when we had discussed Trump’s election in class, everyone had been respectful of each other’s opinions. This is where the connections come in. Nate asked us why we thought that everyone had been kind and not immediately had malice towards those with opposing opinions. Zach said that it was because we all knew each other. Nate agreed and explained that if we have relationships with people, we can look past our differences and still see them as that person who we connected with in the first place. He said when he saw posts on Facebook full of hate he would simply comment things like “Don’t you remember when we had this class together” or some other instance where they hadn’t been two people with conflicting stances, they had just been two people. He also would remind them that he loved them before this and he would love them after. I think this is the perfect message to relate to Citizen and Self because it goes hand in hand with how we can talk better to other people. If we can see the common ground that we have with a person, we can look past our differences because we have the ability to be empathetic with their situation. When someone posts a hate-filled post to everyone on their Facebook feed, they are generalizing and assuming and, until the comments start rolling in, there is no discussion. They post their opinion as being absolute, when no one’s actually is.
Nate also had simple but unheard of advice for people running for office: love your opposition. He believes that if you don’t respect opinions that differ from yours, you have at least got to respect the person holding that opinion. If we start belittling people to what about them we don’t agree with, we become full of hate and lose our humanity. He also talked about his concern for the LGBT community, which he said was the social issue closest to his heart. He said when he taught in high schools he saw the horrible ways that they were treated and he tried his hardest to let kids know that his room was a safe place they could go, and that led several students to eat lunch in his classrooms so they wouldn’t have to eat with the kids that tormented them.

The Kentucky kitchen table was unexpectedly the most beneficial part of this class for me. I expected it to be awkward, but thanks to a gracious host and the two classmates I went with, it was enjoyable and educational (and delicious!) I would recommend doing this project to anyone who wants to learn how other citizens view citizenship or simply just to get to know members of your community better.