KKT Meal

By Antonio

It was a Monday night: April 17th, to be exact. I found myself eating dinner with a family that I had never met before. It was for an Mahurin Honors College course and we were expected to have a discussion about the meaning of citizenship and the values that we hold dear. I’ll admit, I wasn’t all that excited about the project, but I felt that I would learn from the experience nevertheless. After all, I had spent nearly a whole semester reading different articles about the benefits of deliberation and how discussion is a useful tool for discovering other perspectives on major issues. Prior to the assignment, I had only really done this with people my age. It would be the first time that I would thoroughly learn from the perspectives and insights of experienced adults.

The assignment brought me to the cozy home of Allen and Alisa in Alvaton. What a full life they’ve lived! Allen is a true renaissance man. In addition to previously and extensively serving in the military, he is heavenly involved with the International Center in Bowling Green, travels to the United Nations annually, and is an avid hunter. He has done medical volunteering in Panama, traversed through Central America across the Pan-American Highway, hunted game in Africa, and once lived in Britain. He is knowledgeable about both Christianity and Islam and speaks some Spanish. At one point, he even ran for office. Not to mention he was a college roommate of my professor’s father! Alisa is an avid reader, a devout Christian, a proud grandmother, and a former German speaker. She has moved everywhere alongside her husband and once coordinated a mission trip to Guatemala. She is a wonderful cook and made some delightful mashed potatoes, green beans, and deer steak: which Allen hunted. Although she insisted that we not bring anything, I brought some rocky road ice cream. It complemented perfectly with the caramel cake she made! Also at the dinner was Annie, a sophomore at WKU that studies Arabic, Spanish, International Affairs and Political Science.

Annie and I began the discussion with a fundamental required question: beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you? For Allen, one of the most important parts of being a citizen was becoming informed. He was very concerned about how the American people are either misguided or unaware about the current state of political affairs. He mentioned that people will say they don’t watch the news because of the negativity or how they don’t attend town-hall meetings even for important topics like budget spending. Allen felt that people should care and need to care more often. He mentioned that an ill-informed citizenry was a primary concern of the Founding Fathers. Given the times, the worry seems warranted.

Another concern of Allen’s was that there is an issue of Americans not knowing their history or basic aspects about citizenship. Alisa agreed and they both mentioned a study that had asked STEM majors at the University of Texas a series of citizenship questions. For example, “Who fought in the civil war?” Supposedly, a disheartening number of students could not give an answer. Alisa noted how immigrants often learn that sort of information when they become naturalized American citizens. She mentioned some friends who had recently took their test, and, supposedly it was hard. Luckily, their friends were heavy readers and likely passed. In addition to the importance of being civically informed, Alisa felt that citizenship also meant becoming involved with the community and government at all levels. Given their history of volunteering and activism, it seems that the Youngmans have taken their definitions of citizenship to heart.

After a lengthy discussion on citizenship, we then moved on to another interesting question: what social issue is closest to your heart and why? Immigration was an issue that was dear to both Alisa and Allen. The reason was that they felt that xenophobia and suspicion of immigrants was a long-term danger and that it conflicted with our identity as a country. As a latino, it impacts my family directly. I expressed my frustration that despite our heritage, some members of my family have voiced vigorous support for Donald Trump. Allen mentioned that, unfortunately, it is a common cycle: immigrants who have settled here for a long time eventually start to grow distrusting of other immigrants. Looking back on the discussion, it makes me wonder what sort of culture we have created in this country: one that embraces diversity or one of clear division?

The previous question inadvertently brought up a discussion on fake news and how the concept has changed our perception of current events. Allen said it perfectly: before, there were simply different sides of an argument. Now, we don’t even know what the facts are. We also talked about how the advent of the internet has made it easier to fall victim of confirmation bias. To avoid this, Allen, as a liberal, reads a variety of news articles… including Fox News. Again, this family practices what it preaches.

The next two discussion topics were generally positive. For Alisa, the best thing about our world (1) is that young people since 9/11 have been willing to fight for our country. Allen agreed, and talked about how many young Americans go to war and come back severely injured and mutilated. Despite this, they keep their ambition and their willingness to fight. He also mentioned that our generation is smart. I really appreciated this, as it’s rare that people say good things about our generation. I was able to relate particularly with Allen and Alisa in that we wanted to live in a kind of community that is diverse (2). Diversity was a value that the Youngmans especially held dear. They reminisced about when they lived in Washington D.C., how their neighbors came from all over the world, and that there were many international restaurants in the city. While they value the refugee population in Bowling Green, they felt that Kentucky just did not have a high level of diversity compared to Washington D.C. In addition to being diverse, they also wanted an educated and inclusive community: something they found in Bowling Green as shown through the Unity Walk. In my short time here, I am impressed by how much these values matter in the city. By making WKU accessible and teaching Chinese in elementary school, accepting a vibrant refugee community, and fighting for change in the Fairness Campaign, Bowling Green has made a true effort to embrace these values and is a community that I’m proud to be a part of.

As our conversation came to an end, we asked the Youngmans what advice they would give to people running for office. Alisa mentioned a local politician who ran for a position when she was younger. She valued that he funded his own campaign, avoided using flyers, and served with integrity. While she does not trust politicians, she recommends that they follow his example. Allen noted that successful politicians are often very personable and can keep a good sense of humor. Thus, he implicitly suggested that candidates should take on those traits. As I was hearing this, I couldn’t help but think of Trump and Hillary. It reminded me of my Trump-supporting friends who admired that he funded his own campaign. On the other hand, Hillary was simply not a relatable person: a trait Saturday Night Live took full advantage of skit after skit. That said, the Youngmans gave sound advice: have integrity, be personable, and have a sense of humor. Of course, it never hurts to fund your own campaign as well.

I learned a lot that night, but what I think I learned most was that you just never know the depth of a person’s experiences. Just looking at Alisa and Allen, I would have never guessed that they had been to so many places or had helped so many people. In a similar spirit, I learned that it’s possible to have the stereotypes of one political ideology but have beliefs that follow a completely different political philosophy. The Youngmans joked that they’re the most right-wing liberals out there. After all, they come from an older generation, live in rural Kentucky, support gun rights, and are churchgoers. As stereotypes have it, this just screams conservative. Actually, they are very progressive: they support LGBT+ equality, reproductive rights, and the acceptance of refugees. In essence, the dinner was a reminder to not judge a book by its cover.

This assignment really related well to the class’s key question, how do we live well together? As Keith Melville put it in How We Talk Matters, “politics is, in many ways, about how we communicate with each other.”  If we don’t take the time to honestly communicate and to try to understand how our fellow citizens think, we won’t have the opportunity to learn from their experiences, to debunk deceptive stereotypes, or to hear ideas and perspectives that we have never really thought about before. In other words, when we take the time to talk, we make an effort to get to know each other and to establish a mutual understanding. These are ideas that have been discussed extensively in my citizenship class and that’s exactly what we did at the dinner: as former strangers, we decided that citizens need to be informed and that our society should be diverse. And, once again, I was reminded to look past stereotypes. It was a blessing to have had the opportunity to meet Allen and Alisa. I’m glad I took part in this assignment and can’t wait to gather around again at our Kentucky Kitchen Table.


Dinner with Annie, the Youngmans, and my not-photogenic self


Alvaton, Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Annie

On a drizzly evening on April 17th, after a rather quiet drive as my maps app took me on the most roundabout course possible to get to our destination, Antonio and I pulled into the driveway of a small house in Alvaton, Kentucky, a community about 30 minutes away from WKU’s campus. We were greeted by Allen, who met us at my car with a German Shepherd on his heels. After exchanging pleasantries, he led us inside where we were greeted by his wife Alisa, two more dogs, and two cats. Their home was quiet cozy, and I had no trouble getting comfortable on their couch and playing with their dogs as we waited for dinner to finish cooking. When we had arrived, Alisa had just put the rolls in the oven, which allowed the four of us time to get to know each other a little before we all sat down at the table.

And, wow, Allen and Alisa have done it all! Through their military backgrounds, they have traveled all over the world and have met so many different people. They have even visited the same college towns in Spain and England where I told them I will be studying abroad next semester. As a result, they always have a story to tell that relates to the topic at hand. We quickly began delving into political topics, something that seems to happen often when I am able to direct the conversation (as a student majoring in International Affairs, Spanish, and Arabic with a minor in Political Science, I have a quite a lot of opinions, as one might imagine). I soon learned that Antonio and I shared very similar opinions with Allen and Alisa, something that I was shocked to discover considering our very different generations. They are, to put it informally, pretty woke.

Both Allen and Alisa showed genuine interest in us and in our passions. After explaining my studies, Antonio told us that he was also majoring in Spanish as well as psychology. Allen was curious about what we both planned to do with our degrees once we graduated and, after hearing that I wanted to work for the UN but have never visited it, even went so far as to invite me to go to the UN with him for the annual conference he attends as part of his job (wow!!!). Allen and Alisa went out of their way to make us feel comfortable and at home, which is a character trait that I soon learned they exhibit in all facets of their live.

As our conversation progressed, we soon brought up questions that may have seemed controversial, but only further showed the openness and acceptance that Allen and Alisa both demonstrate. After a somewhat lengthy conversation about how many people seem to make judgments about Muslims or the Islamic faith in general, Antonio posed a question about Allen and Alisa’s own faith: does your religious identity relate to how you think we should treat other people? To set the stage, both Allen and Alisa are practicing Christians and attend church on a regular basis, and Antonio and I both went to private religious schools in Louisville. Allen and Alisa answered with a simple and straightforward, “yes, in every way.” When asked about how they believe Christianity and the LGBT+ community are meant to interact, they were very passionate about their belief that members of the LGBT+ community are, of course, welcome in their church. Alisa immediately quoted the passage, “judge not, lest ye be judged,” and explained that the desire of their church is to be a safe and welcoming space for all people, regardless of race, class, or sexual identity.

Similarly, when asked what social issues were closest to their hearts and why, Allen mentioned that he was very concerned about women’s reproductive rights. He told a story of how he was once being interviewed for a position and was asked his opinion on abortion, to which he replied something along the lines of, “Well, I think it’s terrible. I’ve never had one, and I’m never going to have one. I’m thankful I don’t have to make that decision because it is a weighty one that is not to be taken lightly, but it’s not my decision to make for whichever woman is contemplating it.” He didn’t get the job, but I appreciated his ability to be vocal about his belief without attempting to force it onto others. Another social issue Allen and Alisa mentioned was “fake news,” which he said is helping to create a misinformed electorate.

This fake news also ties into their response of what it means to be a citizen (besides voting, paying taxes, and obeying laws). They both believed that it is our duty to be informed, about current politics and events as well as about our history as a nation and as a world. Allen believed that, although my generation has a million and one tools at its disposal to gather information, these tools tend to not be used. This, he said, will be detrimental to our society, as political demagogues will take advantage of an uninformed public to advance their own agenda. Both Allen and Alisa mentioned how many people are unable to answer basic questions about U.S. history, citing a TV bit where an interviewer asked basic questions taken from a U.S. citizenship test to many students from the University of Texas (even the really smart ones, like the STEM majors) and most were unable to give correct answers to questions like “Who fought in the Civil War?” or even “Who won the Civil War?” Alisa said that another part of being a citizen is active community involvement at all levels of government, meaning that citizens need to call their representatives, go to town hall meetings, and show a genuine interest in and knowledge of governmental procedures within their communities that affect them and their neighbors.

One very encouraging thing that Allen said to me was that, despite what I may believe (I am notoriously a cynic), the younger generation that is beginning to rise up really is fantastic and really will make a difference, I’m just too close to it to see that. He said that his generation is a lost cause at this point, there’s no way to change their minds about things, but that once my generation comes to power, the world will be different. As someone who is deeply involved in political and social activism but also disheartened by the lack of progress I see, this came as a great relief to me.

Almost everything we talked about over dinner—which was delicious venison Salisbury steak with green beans, mashed potatoes, and the modern day manna that is Sister Schubert’s yeast rolls—related back to our class in some way; from the actual act of conversing with someone with no intention to be right, but rather to just put our opinions out there, to actually discussing how we can live well (or at least somewhat better) together. Dinner with Allen and Alisa showed that although we sometimes vary in opinion—for example, Allen said he was pro-gun—we are still able to find common ground on which to forge relationships. During one part of the conversation, when we were talking about how Islam is often misconstrued, I was reminded of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen (although this book is about race, not religion) in that, like people of color, Muslims must often face judgment, concerns, or different treatment from others that would not be passed onto Christians, or in Rankine’s case, white people. For example, Christians almost always take into account the context of a passage that they quote, and even regard that context as an integral part of understanding that specific scripture; however, many Christian critics of Islam (that I have observed, at least) fail to take into account the context of specific entries from the Qur’an. Partly because it is difficult to understand the context unless you are a scholar, because verses are ordered from longest to shortest, not chronologically or in a story format, and partly, I think, because eliminating the context makes it seem “bad” and gives them a better evidence to prove their point that Islam is wrong.

After we wrapped up conversation over desert, Allen stood at the end of his driveway with a flashlight and helped me back out, while extending an invitation for us to have dinner again sometime. All in all, I had a great time at dinner with Antonio, Allen, and Alisa. The openness of our conversation allowed us to get to know each other, and I noticed that on the drive back to campus, Antonio and I were much more talkative with each other, as well (it helps that my iTunes began playing an artist that we both enjoyed, nos encanta la banda mexicana “Jesse & Joy). It is amazing that in just two and a half hours, you can become comfortable enough with strangers to feel at ease sharing your opinions about rather controversial and deep topics. I wish the best for Allen and Alisa in the future, and may even take them up on their offer to stop by again!


we cleaned our plates at our table!

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.


A New Experience: My Kentucky Kitchen Table Project

By Abigail


For my Kentucky Kitchen Table Project, I had the opportunity to travel to a home in Bowling Green, Kentucky that I had never been to before. The host was a very friendly man, named Nate, who was very open to sharing personal stories and what it means to live in society today. Nate is a retired school teacher and is currently preaching at a local Christian church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. His wife Nancy has passed away but he is very close with his son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren, whom he visits quite regularly in Florida. He is very outgoing and not afraid at all to tell embarrassing stories about himself or tell of many experiences he has faced. Also seated at the dinner table were two of my classmates from Citizen and Self. Zachary, a sophomore at Western Kentucky University, is from Louisville, Kentucky and is majoring in English. He told of his experiences as a swimmer in Louisville, Kentucky and his new involvement with Greek life on campus. Cate is a freshman at Western Kentucky University who is also majoring in English. She told of her experiences as a volleyball player in high school and of her job working at a local barbeque restaurant in her hometown: Glasgow, Kentucky. However, she is not involved with a Greek organization on campus.

When we first arrived at Nate’s house, we sat down at his dinner table and began getting to know one another better. We each described our adjustments to living on campus, and shared our backgrounds with one another. Nate talked about his experiences as a college student at Western Kentucky University and also at University of Kentucky and told us many stories about him and his wife. He also talked about how close he is with his neighbors and how they have a Fourth of July party every year full of fun and fireworks. Zach also discussed his closeness with his neighbors and how his parents host a neighborhood Bible study. I talked about how my neighborhood road is named after my last name because everyone who used to live there was related.

We then went and filled our plates with the delicious food that each person had contributed to the table. Nate cooked a full course meal including chicken, spaghetti, salad, rolls, green beans, and corn. Zachary, Cate, and I were responsible for bringing the deserts which consisted of chocolate chip cookies, rice crispy treats, and chocolate cupcakes. Nate said that he loves to cook and used to cook all the time when his wife Nancy was living, but it is so difficult now to cook for only one. Since Bowling Green, Kentucky is home to a wide variety of restaurants, Nate states that he likes to eat out a lot. We then directed the conversation to community and citizenship, and we began asking many questions that helped guide the discussion. We first asked him what citizenship meant to him. He said that citizenship means protecting, voting, paying taxes, and following laws. He also mentioned how he recognized that although there is a separation between church and state, he wishes that everyone would act morally by caring for one another. He believes that people have to be taught to care. Coming from a teacher’s standpoint, he used to see kids all the time who had feelings but did not see the responsibility to act on those feelings and care for others. His idea of citizenship and the act of caring for one another showed that his religious or spiritual identity, Christianity, related to how he thinks we should treat other people. He thinks that no matter what religious affiliation you are associated with, whether it be Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam, a person is expected to care. Nate shared his story of how he first became a preacher at the church he attends. He said he originally began on the minister supply list, a list including fill-in preachers when the main preacher is sick or in the hospital. However, his main preacher was fired and Nate was called to take his place. Willingly, he decided to do so and has been there ever since. He has been preaching for ten years. As we were on the subject of religion and its role in democracy, we went around the dinner table and shared our denominations. We are all Christians but I am a member of a Church of Christ, Cate attends a Baptist church, Zachary is non-denominational, and Nate preaches at a Christian church: Disciples of Christ.

Another topic that we discussed was the social issue that Nate holds closest to his heart. He said that working with the LGBTQ community has meant more to him than anything. His experience as a school teacher showed him that many who sexually identify as this were picked on and ridiculed. He said that his room was a safe space for them to go to and that they knew that. He said that many of them would come in his room during lunchtime and eat with him, that way they would not be bullied.

Lastly, we talked of the presidential election and the uproar it has caused on social media and in society. I told Nate about the discussion we had in our Citizen and Self class about the election and although some agreed with the decision made, and others opposed it, the students were still very respectful of others feelings. Nate told us that the reason why everyone was able to accept the differences in the room was because we had built relationships with one another and arguing over the election would hinder or hurt those relationships. He talked about the importance of connections and finding common ground. His advice for people running for office in our country is to learn to love your opposition. Although disagreements will occur, it is essential to love and respect the person that you are disagreeing with. Whenever we refuse to love and respect those we are disagreeing with, we have lost our humanity.

By doing this project, I learned a lot about other people’s views of our world today and how important it is to discuss with others the most prominent affairs affecting our country. Essentially, living well together involves understanding where others are coming from and being open-minded to other perspectives. It is not only about sharing your beliefs but it is about really listening and understanding others also. While sitting at the dinner table, it was very interesting to hear Nate’s take on the world. Nate is a man who lives in the same city as me, but I would have never had the opportunity to meet with him if it was not for connections and this project. Although I was very nervous when coming into the situation, I am glad that I went as I now see it as a great activity that really ties into the whole basis of the Citizen and Self class: understanding how we live and work well with others. I would definitely recommend this project to other students because although every individual at the kitchen table came from diverse backgrounds, we each brought something new to the table and was able to talk through our differences.

Zachary’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Zachary

Our dinner consisted of myself, Abigail, and Cate at Nate’s house.  I arrived first and Nate began telling me about the different jobs he’d had throughout his life before he settled on teaching.  The transition he made that I thought was most interesting was how he went from working in a restaurant to being a food salesman.  He just changed who he was selling to food to.  Abigail and Cate arrived shortly after and we sat down and began chatting before we began to eat.  We all went around and briefly shared our major and where we are from.  I don’t recall Abigail and Cate’s majors but I know they were both in the sciences.  Abigail is a freshman who went to GSP before her senior year of high school and is from Kentucky.  Right now she is on a club cheer team in Bowling Green.  Cate is also from Kentucky and played volleyball in high school.  Next Nate began sharing with us.  He told us about his son and grandchildren and pointed out photos of them on his fridge.  He then proceeded to tell us about how he met his wife.  The story was very funny.  He was almost hit by someone driving a car and proceeded to flip them off.  The driver stopped and rolled down the window and he realized that he knew her.  From then on they hit it off pretty well and eventually he followed her to another school where they realized they had feeling for each other and began dating before eventually getting married.

Nate shared a lot of stories of us.  One that was particularly interesting was why he does not swim in the ocean anymore.  On him and his wife’s anniversary one year they were able to go snorkeling one day.  They began and he told us it was beautiful because of the amount of fish and how blue the water was.  But he was not able to stay in the water long.  Soon all the fish began swimming to him and nibbling on his body.  He told us how he immediately got swam up from there, got back in the boat, and did not got back in the ocean for the rest of their trip.  We began talking about this story after we talked about how Cate lived near a lake which prompted Nate telling us about why he can’t swim in the lake.  Another interesting story he told us was about how he helped teach a student in Germany about finding the volume of a cucumber by unconventional means.  He gave him a few ways to do it but the most interesting was dropping it into a body if water and then using the resulting displacement to find the volume of the cucumber.  He then took this way of learning and had his own high school class do it in class to make the whole experience more interesting and fulfilling for his students.

Around this point we began eating the dinner that Nate made for us.  It consisted of fried Italian style chicken, spaghetti with red sauce, corn, green beans, some rolls, and salad.  The food was delicious and was a great supplement to the conversation.  The conversation slowed a little bit as we began eating.  He told us that he has always enjoyed cooking and before his wife passed away.  He told us about some other meals he had prepared when he had friends over to play bridge.  He took particular pride in the Bourbon balls he had made for them.

As we finished our meal we began to have a more pointed conversation as Abigail began asking some questions from our guide.  This led to our most interesting conversation of the night.  Nate began telling us about his worldview, where it came from, how it informed the way he treated others, and how it informed his outlook on America.  He told us how he truly believes the most important thing that exists in how we interact is having respect and kindness for everyone, especially those we disagree with.  He said this worldview came partially from his faith but was informed largely from his time as a teacher.  He told us about seeing how LGBTQ kids were treated in his school and how he reached out to them to help them feel safe and wanted.  He opened up his room for lunch and they often came and ate in his room.  Because of this he is supports LGBTQ individuals but also understands how important it is to treat everyone with kindness.  The conversation moved towards deliberation and he told us how he went about talking to those he disagrees with on issues.  He emphasized how important having a base position of common ground was to having a civil conversation.  When a conversation began to become more hostile than he preferred he would bring them back to why they were friends in the first place.  This way of discussion leads to conversations that are productive and insightful instead of conversations that are just two people yelling their opinions at each other.

Without knowing it Nate had begun sharing his view on what I feel is the most important aspect of our class: how to have civil and productive conversations with those that stand opposite of us on issues.  While I feel we have learned a lot about deliberation during class, talking about outside of the class setting gave me an understanding of how important it is that is hard to gain in an academic setting.  Treating people that we think our wrong with the same respect we would want for our self only has positive outcomes.  The informal way he spoke of this was a perfect supplement to the formal way of learning we have in class.  Using deliberation while talking about abstract things in class is helpful to use, but talking about it in relation to “that guy on Facebook” gave it a realism that is hard to gain in a classroom setting.  As the conversation closed I was very glad to have had the chance to meet Nate and hear his stories and opinions.  He was able to put to words a lot of things I had felt about the election without being positive or negative toward either candidate.  The entire experience was a very positive one that I hope many students will get to experience in the future.


60’s, 70’s, and 80’s Hits Pandora Playlist

By William

At the dinner was myself, Colten, and our gracious host Nate. Colten is a Bio-Chem major and is from McLean county. Nate retired from his teaching position at Warren Central High School around 2005 and is currently a pastor at his church in Christian County. While growing up Nate moved frequently, changing residence every couple years due to his dad’s job. He has a killer 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s hits playlist that was playing before, during, and after our dinner. When Colten and I arrived at Nate’s house (after pulling into the wrong drive-way of course) we were greeted in the drive way by a white poodle and Nate himself. Now, sitting at the kitchen counter, we all got to know a little about each other over the fresh fruit I had brought. Eventually, we moved to the dinner table big enough for only three people. For the first minute or so we all stuffed our faces with the surf n’ turf meal Nate had prepared. As we proceeded to inhale everything in sight, Nate informed us on how excited he was to cook this meal. Sadly, Nate’s wife passed away a few months before. Because of this he doesn’t cook much for anyone other than himself.

After stomaching this news we started to ask Nate the questions that were supposed to induce conversation. Unfortunately, neither Colten or I were good at making these questions seem smooth or not awkward to bring up in discussion. Nate, however, took the questions and ran with them by going on tangents and telling stories. When we asked Nate about what social issue is closest to his heart, he responded with education. Because Nate was a teacher, he has a deep interest in the lives of the kids he was with everyday. He values education, he says, because “people can steal your money and your identity, but they cannot take away your education.” Nate told us a story about a student he once had in class who did not receive the love that he needed from those around him, especially his parents. Everyday, Nate would give this student a hug and eventually would say, “Hey man, I just want you to know that I love you and I care about you.” Nate says he would get a lot of concerning looks and comments from the teachers about how it was inappropriate for Nate to interact with a student like this. He made it very clear to us that if he got fired for making sure a student knew that they were loved and appreciated then so be it. Next, we asked Nate if he believes that he had any kind of obligation to the people in his community. Immediately he responds saying that we do have a responsibility to those around us and that “we are human, what’s the point if you’re not going to care?” To follow up this question we asked what he thought you could do in the community to help others. Three things came to his mind. The first way to give to the community was through your time. If you didn’t have time to give, then money was another option. Lastly, and most importantly, was through building relationships. Both Colten and I agreed that this was the most important way to give back to the community. We immediately mention how we just talked about this topic in class. We brought up the point that it is sometimes counter productive to go into an area, do the work, and then leave as if we know the solution to some one else’s problem. We tied this back into the relationship comment saying that a lot of the time people are just looking for someone to listen to them so they can actually help and be useful. We also talked about how Nate’s religious identity relates to how he thinks we should treat other people. To answer this, Nate tells a story about his church. Nate’s church, which is Disciples of Christ denomination, declared gay people as still part of the church. He says after doing that, around fifty percent of the church left. He says that people lack the confidence to be good and instead put others down to make themselves feel better about their relationship with God. Nate reiterated throughout the conversation that “by our love” we show what Christianity really is. Although it was the first question we asked Nate, I think it is the best one to end this post with. “What does citizenship mean to you?” He replied with a simple yet ultimately true statement. “To help other citizens in need.” Nate understood that being a citizen doesn’t mean doing whats best for yourself. It is about doing what’s best for others which in turn will be best for everyone, including yourself.

Finally, to end the night we had some coffee, water for me however since it was close to bedtime, and dirt pudding made by Colten. While we ate dessert, there wasn’t much conversation other than a story about how Nate met his wife. While he told the story, I reflected on what all had been said at dinner. I realized that a lot of what we talk about in class, comes down to just being a good person. Nate has never taken Honors 251, yet he embodies most of the idea and principles that we go over in class. We listened to how Nate doesn’t always agree with others around him, yet he still cares about them, loves them, and wishes to see the best for them. That is definitely something I will take away from this dinner with Nate and Colten.


A Teacher in and out of the Class


By Colten

William and I were very lucky to be paired with our host, Nate Quarcelino. Not only does Nate have a good taste in music, but he is a fabulous cook. Nate retired from his math teaching position and department chair position at Greenwood High School in 2005. After retiring Nate is able to spend more time visiting his grandchildren in Florida, but always comes back near WKU where he and his wife, who has passed, called home. He can never stay in Florida too long for Nate is now a pastor at Pembroke Christian Church, where he has preached for the last eight and a half years. He says he will continue preaching until “they boot me out.” I describe Nate to you and will continue to tell you about some of his stories because it connects to the world that is and the kind of world that Nate wants to live in and strives to create.

As we ate fruit provided by William, Nate finished cooking the dinner. During this time Nate talked about segregation that still occurs in the world around him. One specific example he pointed out occurred in the churches. African Americans go to their church, and whites go to their church. He noticed that there is little to zero mixing, and told a story that occurred six years ago as an elderly black woman walked into his church. He recalls the first time that she was wearing a “dress, white gloves, wonderful hat, and a huge smile.” Nate paid close attention, unsure of how his congregation would react. Soon a young teenager came over to this woman and welcomed her to the church and informed her about the church. After the sermon Nate goes speak with the woman and lets her know that he appreciates her coming. He notices that she shows up every fourth Sunday. He learns that is because her son’s work schedule makes it to where he is not able to take her to the further away predominately African American church. The woman said she had visited another church (known to be predominately white) before but they didn’t even speak to her. After about a year, the African American woman decided to become a member of the Christian Church.

This begs the question, what type of world do we want to live in? A world where people don’t talk to others because of the color of their skin? People treat someone differently because they are not the same? Nate tells us that he wants to live in world filled compassion and love for one another and thinks that is part of being a good citizen. He especially wants Christians to show who they are and what they represent “by [their] love.” However, “[Some] people lack the confidence to be good and therefore put down others,” he explains. Nate recalls another story of the church where it reaches out and tries to connect to others by declaring gays a part of the church. Then he said that about fifty percent of the church left. Nate believes that we obligated to care about others and states clearly, “You’re human. What’s the point if you’re not going to care?” This is very similar to the empathy that we have talked about having in Citizen and Self. When asked how these obligations connected in our country and community, Nate responded that if you take care of the individuals around you, you take care of your community, which trickles up and benefits the country.

We asked Nate about another social issue that he felt close to, and to no surprise he responded with education. Something that I also feel deeply about, as it is what I plan to do with my life. Nate remarked that he heard a saying. It went something like people can “steal your money, steal your identity, but cannot steal you education.” Nate believes that an education empower people and promotes a better life. (An interesting aspect that we should have brought to the conversation was the fact that some kids receive a crappy  education because of where they grow up.) Nate says the best returns in teaching is that you truly can “touch lives” and that he did. So me kids just needed someone in their life that cared about them he states and for one kid, Nate was that one person.

The Kentucky Kitchen Table project has allowed me to get more of a feel of how people in our community view citizenship. Although this project was meant for myself and the person I had dinner with, it sparked  conversation with my roommate, family, and friends and became a great way to start some of the same conversations with other people.