Kaitlyn and I held our Kentucky kitchen table project here in Bowling Green. A sorority sister’s mother graciously offered her home and kitchen table for our discussion if we all agreed to each bring a dish to contribute to the meal. I made the shredded steak and banana pepper mix that is pictured in the beige bowl. Kaitlyn made macaroni and cheese. Three Kappa Delta’s together made the rolls and brought cheese slices. Three Alpha Omicron Pi’s brought a vegetable and cheese plate. The mother made pumpkin cheesecake brownies, which were in the oven baking when the photo below was taken.
Kaitlyn and I each invited three of our own sorority sisters to attend the event. The host of the dinner, Kelly, and her youngest daughter, Allison, were also present at the dinner. In total we had eight guests to eat and talk with. Kelly is the mother of my Kappa Delta sister, Caroline. She offered to host our dinner. Kelly is in her fifties and currently works as a pharmacist at a locally owned pharmacy in Bowling Green. Kelly is a WKU alumna. She identifies as Christian, but nondenominational, and as a Democrat. She is originally from Harlan County, which is a very poor county in Eastern Kentucky. She grew up extremely poor and was a first generation college student.
Allison is currently a junior in High School. She grew up in a middle class family in Bowling Green, KY. She is not old enough to be a registered voter and has yet to decide which political party she will register with. She also said she is currently discovering her faith and hopes to explore many different denominations in college that she was not exposed to in high school. She has not decided what career path she wants to take or where to attend college. Allison’s input in the conversation was particularly interesting because she is very open-minded and is not confined to social labels and groups that many others attribute to themselves.
I invited three Kappa Delta’s that Kaitlyn had never met before: Caroline, Madison, and Christa. Caroline is Kelly’s oldest daughter. She is a junior at WKU and within the Honors College, and she is double majoring in biology and psychology with a pre-physician’s assistant concentration. She identifies as having independent political beliefs—she describes herself as having liberal social beliefs but conservative beliefs regarding government policies. She grew up in a middle class family in Bowling Green, KY and identifies as a Christian and says her beliefs most closely align with the Presbyterian denomination.
Madison is a sophomore in the Honors College and is studying finance and accounting. She is from Northern Kentucky. Madison would describe her family as lower class, and she uses her residual check from the university to pay for her sorority dues. She identifies with the Democratic political party and defines herself as being more spiritual than religious.
Christa is a freshman in the Honors College majoring in biology. She is from Louisville and describes her family as upper class. She is very strong in her Catholic faith and is a registered Republican. Christa describes herself as very conservative.
Kaitlyn also brought three of her sorority sisters, whom I had never met before: Brittney, Haleigh, and Sarah. Brittney is a senior and is from Versailles. She describes her socioeconomic status as upper middle class. She is majoring in social work. She identifies with the Republican political party and is a Southern Baptist.
Haleigh is a senior and is from Glasgow, KY. She describes her family as upper class. She is currently applying to law schools. She identifies with the Republican Party and is a member of a Church of Christ.
Sarah is a junior from Franklin, KY. She describes her socioeconomic status as lower middle class. She is studying elementary education. She considers herself to be Christian, but nondenominational, and a Democrat.
All together, I feel that we achieved diversity in our group. Nearly half of our group was Democrat, while the other half was Republican. The majority of our group identified as Christian, but many denominations and views were represented. We had a wide range of hometowns and socioeconomic statuses represented. Some individuals were from larger cities while some were from very rural areas. The majority of the dinner guests considered themselves to be middle class but there were a few who considered themselves upper class or lower class, and they talked openly about that experience. We also had generational diversity. The host of the dinner offered a different outlook that many of us millennials did not readily see. Also, having the younger sister there was also interesting because she has yet to explore society on her own. Each of these different facets and experiences that make up our individual identities help to shape our views and opinions on different social issues.
Before we started the conversation, Kaitlyn and I first introduced the project to them and the goal of our dinner. We also laid down guidelines for discussion, much as we would in class before a deliberation. These were very simple and helped to make sure that the conversation was productive and respectful to all opinions. Some simple guidelines we requested that would be followed were 1. We would all remain respectful of others’ opinions and beliefs, 2. No one would be required to share if they felt uncomfortable doing so, and 3. We reserved the right to change the topic of conversation if we felt that the conversation was deteriorating and was no longer productive. Thankfully, everyone was very respectful the entire dinner, and we never had to enforce these rules. However, I did think that the rules set a nice precedent that this conversation was to be taken seriously.
We opened the conversation with the question “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” There were varied answers among everyone, but the common thread of most of the answers was linked to the answer that being a citizen means having respect and compassion for your fellow man. A good citizen does complete all of the typical duties that we traditionally think of, but a good citizen also goes out of their way to help their community and to get to know their neighbors and the needs of their neighbors. Many girls did attribute this line of thinking to their Christian faith. Their desire to help their fellow man stemmed directly from what they think Christ would do and what He would want from us. I then posed the question, how far does that radius of support extend? Do we think of ourselves more as local or global citizens? It was interesting because individuals from rural communities, like Madison and Haleigh, identified more as local citizens and had more personal connections to their neighbors and communities, while individuals from larger cities, like Christa and Allison, identified their citizenship as having more of a reach, to a national and even global level, but struggled naming some of their close neighbors. It also appeared that individuals who had global exposure through mission work or study abroad were more likely to consider themselves global citizens. Sarah recently spent time in Haiti doing mission work and shared how that experience helped to put her personal identity into perspective. She strongly believes in being an active global citizen and that so long as we all occupy the same Earth, we have a responsibility to try to help others when we have the power to do so.
We had the dinner the week before the presidential election, so inevitably the presidential election came up in conversation. The varying political beliefs allowed for a rich debate on the topic of candidates, however we tried to instead focus on what we each personally wanted our country to look like and how we wanted it to function and which candidate could accomplish those things. This was a particularly difficult conversation because many of us had different picturesque images of America. Christa, being very conservative, had a vastly different idea of what she wanted her country to like in the next four years than Caroline did, who was very concerned with the expansion of rights for all citizens, regardless of race, sexual orientation, etc. We could not reach a consensus on what this country needed and who was the best to do that. We then discussed just how hard it is to achieve a better America when the country is so divided on what that direction should be? Will we ever truly have a united country? While most of the college-aged women were stressed by this idea that our country would be permanently divided, Kelly tried to ease our fears. She said there had been very nasty elections before and times when America was starkly divided but yet the country had endured. Our conversation consisted of many topics and lasted for nearly two hours, but I have chosen to highlight the topics that impacted me the most.
Through these conversations, I learned not to make assumptions about individuals’ beliefs and opinions. From afar, the group that was gathered for dinner appeared homogenous: mostly Caucasian young women. I had assumed that we would mostly all be in agreement on most of the questions. However, after actually getting to talk with each of these women, I learned how vastly different we all were from each other and how different our views were. We never reached an agreement on any topic that we discussed. Every woman strongly supported her opinion and was respectful to others’ views but was usually not wavering in her own response.
I also learned that an act of citizenship might be to simply talk about the issues that we are all facing. This dinner and this class have illustrated to me how powerful conversation and deliberation can be. Each woman brought their own opinion and facts that they knew about certain social issues and these were able to act as a supplement to the knowledge I knew on an issue and challenged my own opinions. Discussion promotes critical thinking and civic engagement. I left that dinner feeling like I knew each woman fairly well because we had a real and meaningful conversation.
I feel that this conversation was how deliberation should be. We were all very receptive and respectful. This directly correlates to one of our central questions, “How do we live better together?” To live better together, I believe that we have to be accepting of differences and must be willing to hear the other side of an argument. I also feel that we must realize that our own idealistic image of what this country should be is not always someone else’s and that we must all, as individuals, be willing to compromise to achieve what is best for the whole nation. This relates best to the reading by Melville, “How We Talk Matters” and specifically to the quote “It’s not us versus them. We’re all us.” This is something that I think our country truly needs to keep in mind in such a trying time. This reading also states that democracy starts in “exchanges that take place over dinner tables.” If politicians were able to sit around their own kitchen table and listened, just as much as they talked, we may have a more effective and unified government. Overall, I truly enjoyed this assignment. This assignment and this course have made me feel more connected to my fellow man and has made me see that I do need to take ownership of my own actions and what role I can play in alleviating social issues.