The Kentucky Kitchen Table that I attended was in Bowling Green, Kentucky, right outside from Western Kentucky University’s campus. Grace, Gage, and I (all students in the Honors 251 Citizen and Self class) were invited to attend dinner at Leah’s house; Leah is the director for the center of citizenship and social justice. Gage and I happened to pull up to the driveway right behind each other; he is in an earlier citizen and self class than I am. Grace, on the other hand, is many a times my partner when it comes to discussions in our 251 class. When the three of us arrived, we were introduced to her husband who works in construction, her three daughters; Makenna who is a senior in high school, Katie who is a freshman in high school, and Riley who is also a freshman in high school, and Cole who is Makenna’s boyfriend, also currently a senior in high school. All together, there were nine people at this Kentucky Kitchen Table.
Even though the three of us had not previously met this family, it was not too awkward upon entering their home. I felt very welcomed, not to mention that the tacos we had for dinner were very good. The conversation formed on its own, with questions being asked about where we were all from and some of our interests. Leah grew up in Bowling Green, whereas her husband grew up in the north, later moving to Bowling Green. Makenna, the oldest daughter there, is planning on attending Western in the fall, with her boyfriend planning on working on a farm. Grace is originally from Evansville, Indiana, and Gage is originally from Kentucky, with myself representing East Tennessee
After our miniature introductions, the three of us asked the required question for this project: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Leah’s husband responded first, saying that for him, citizenship meant being more involved in one’s community, such as volunteering. During the first part of our discussion, it was a little hard to get the conversation moving, which is expected since all of us did not know each other, though I think this really added to our experience. The next response was from Leah, which was probably one of the best of the night. She mentioned the right of protesting, specifically concerning the protests of the recent election. She said, “Engaging in citizenship means to try and make or bring about changes in your community, for example, through marches or protests. She proceeded to say that this is the most active that she has seen citizens become in cities, particularly with the younger generations for the past few decades or maybe even ever.” Some of the girls in the family agreed on saying that there are some rights that you have earned as a citizen, such as having a house, having a school, and having a recycling bin.
The next question that we asked was “Do you think we have any other obligations to people in our community?” Katie, who is one of the freshmen daughters here in Bowling Green, mentioned homelessness. She said “It is not the people who are homeless’ fault that they do not have a place to live, and because of that we should help them because it is the right thing to do.” As a group, we all agreed that we, as citizens of the United States, do have a responsibility to help others in our community.
After the question concerning helping others in our community, we asked the family what social issue is closest to their hearts. The topic of hunger was brought up, and it was mentioned that while the problem of world hunger needed to be addressed specifically in third-world countries, we need to also focus on the situation here at home in the United States, and even on a more local level, like the community of Bowling Green. Leah said that this is especially seen in public schools with free and reduced lunch programs. Children who meet the requirements to receive such services are sometimes sent home with food for the night and for the duration of the weekends. However, this food is often times hardly adequate enough to last when it is to be split between siblings.
The next question concerned what we did and did not like about Bowling Green, Kentucky. One of the things that I said was how much it felt more like a community to me compared to some of the other universities that I visited. One of the stories that I told regarding why I came to Western aside from the Chinese Flagship program was on account of this welcoming feeling, specifically seen when I met with my advisor. He really personalized the time my family and I spent with him, going over possible classes for my schedule and the different requirements needed for a Spanish major, and he was genuinely interested in the questions we asked and what we had to say, making me and my family feel that my experience at Western would be more individualized and less like a statistic. Leah also commented that she liked how the Bowling Green community was also a refugee resettlement community, and how that added to the diversity on Western’s campus and throughout the city. All in all, there were no negative comments about this community.
Overall, I really enjoyed this project. At first the idea of eating dinner with many people whom I did not know so well was a bit daunting, but it was definitely a worth-while experience. I think one of the over-arching ideas that I learned from this was that no matter how different everyone is, whether that be their age, their ideas, their education level, their political stance, or their socioeconomic stance, we are still able to come together as a community to have a civilized discussion around a dinner table. In today’s modern society, particularly in the younger generation, I think that the skills needed to participate in an activity like this are slowly being diminished. Participating in the KKT definitely enables you to work on your people skills and be willing to hear other peoples’ opinions even though you may not agree with them.
Another aspect that I found very insightful from this process was hearing everyone’s opinions on various issues with regards to their life experiences. I always enjoyed listening to Leah give her ideas and opinions since she worked at the center of citizenship and social justice. I learned a bit more about what the center stands for and some of their purposes. I also thought it was interesting listening to what the high schoolers had to say in regards to certain issues. Referring back to the need for younger people (including college age students) to have more experience in communication, I think one of the reasons it was a little awkward was because we are so used to communicating with people through technology, without having to take into account body language and improvising the conversation, rather than having some time to think about what you are going to say before you send it or tell it.
Obviously, the Kentucky Kitchen Table experience largely relates to the citizen and self class, along with some of the readings. One aspect of the class that I relate the Kentucky Kitchen Table to is the bridge metaphor. On the far left side of the bridge is where we are in today’s society, on the far right side is where we would like to be in today’s society, and then the bridge itself is the journey to meet the goal. As students, we started out on the far left side of the bridge, with the goal on the far right side being to be a fully engaged, model citizen. The Kentucky Kitchen Table is one of the events on the journey to becoming a model citizen that is on the bridge. Therefore, through activities like this, we are able to better ourselves as citizens.
In addition, one of the readings in particular, Jane Addams’ The Snare of Preparation, relates to the Kentucky Kitchen Table. In this article, Jane talks about the fault that preparing so much has, that being someone who spends so much time preparing for an event or for action, but never actually follows through after the preparations or does not spend an adequate amount of time acting. I see the preparing proportion of this as the time spent in the citizen and self class, preparing ourselves on how to effectively deliberate with others and how to be a better citizen in general. However, simply learning the “how-to’s” is not enough until you have put what you have learned into practice. An example of this would be to participate and organize deliberations in your own community, to become more active in your community through volunteering and voting in local elections, and to even host or organize more events like the Kentucky Kitchen Table.
In conclusion, I think that this experience was very beneficial in understanding the class more, and it also helped in making connections with people in the Bowling Green community. Furthermore, it solidified some of the key points in the citizen and self class, like the bridge metaphor. Hearing other people’s opinions and thoughts concerning what citizenship means to them and how they view controversial issues was also insightful, making this a memorable experience.