Every Community Has a “Derek”…

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By Kaylee

Looking back on my dinner for the Kentucky Kitchen Table, I would categorize it as a young adult view and perspective on citizenship and community. Nine people in total attended, including me, ranging from the age of 17-28. It was split pretty 50/50 on people I knew and didn’t know, which made conversation and discussion surprisingly easy.

Brayden, (17) is a student here at WKU in the Gatton Academy. He grew up in Glasgow, Kentucky and was very excited to move to Bowling Green this past August. In the discussion, he highlighted the culture difference from just 30 mins away. He was accompanied by two other Glasgow natives who got to school at WKU also. Chandlor and Jacob (18) are roommates in a freshman all boys’ dorm on campus and both work off campus.

Olivia and Hayley (18) are both seniors at Bowling Green High School, and Olivia has grown up in Bowling Green. She is involved in choral and musical activities at her school. Hayley recently moved to Bowling Green, a little less than a year ago from California. Her father was recently asked to work as the Children’s Pastor at Crossland Community Church and she has lived in different areas of California and Texas throughout her life.

Katie (21) is a senior at WKU. She is majoring in marketing and works at a local branding company in Bowling Green. She is originally from Evansville, Indiana and lives close to campus with two roommates. Cameron (21) is a local musical artist and works for Royal Music and volunteers his strengths and talents at Crossland Community Church. He did not attend college to pursue his career in music and also volunteers at one of the campus ministries, CRU, with Katie.

Melissa (28) is the volunteer director for the Center for Courageous Kids, in Scottsville, Kentucky. She grew up in Louisville and moved here to attend WKU. She is married to her husband, Nick, and they have a one-year-old child, Cullen.

This group gave a very neat perspective for me, because all were involved in a volunteer position of some sort. I invited 4 participants, who then invited the other 4 participants to join. We ate a meal together and then I started the discussion by asking the first question: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following the law, what does citizenship mean to you?” Answers of similar degree were spouted off such as doing more, going the extra mile, and realize the rights and responsibilities you have as a citizen locally and nationally. There seemed to be a good degree of agreement among the group so I decided to switch the conversation to what kind of community was ideal to live in. Responses were brought back to the types of citizens in the community, and Cameron mentioned a community of everyone doing their part for the community, with a sense of unity within of a common ground or goal. Melissa decided to add onto that by highlighting community involvement with a mix of individualism. And Katie thought a main value of a community should be a concern for others inside and outside the community, and others piggy backed with being accepting of everyone, while others counter placed that with making sure boundaries were made from acceptance and being aware of your morals and not letting those fall.

Other answers were similar and we concluded that in an essence we were describing a form of socialism, which is, on paper, the perfect community, but it is not an achievable goal in real life due to human error. Other qualities such as selflessness were brought up, and how the more you give the more you will receive. A concern on this topic was how in today’s society communities and neighborhoods were not as connected as they once were.

I then asked if people truly knew their neighbors. Most were sad to agree that they didn’t, even those who lived in a dorm on campus, and those with roommates said there were many times they didn’t converse regularly with their roommates. We then discussed spiritual aspects of how the two greatest commandments calls us to love The Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself and how we must keep those in mind when interacting within our communities. Hayley made a point to also say we are called to love our neighbors and our enemies, which Chandlor piggybacked by highlighting those enemies might be your neighbors. This did lead to somewhat of a gossip conversation about neighbors (good and bad), which, at first, I was nervous about, but surprisingly led to the highlight of the conversation of the night, which surrounded this blog post.

In the gossip of neighbors, a specific Derek* a neighbor in the community was brought up, and stories were shared of how he was rude and hard to get along with. After the gossip and jokes of Derek, Chandlor brought up a good point about how communities work. He asked how many “Dereks” you would want in your community, and immediately everyone shared they wouldn’t want “a Derek,” they wouldn’t want that person of conflict. We quickly realized that everything we said about hoping for the perfect community and acceptance of all went to waste. Chandlor then shared some studies he had read of how every community “needs a Derek” and how gossip and controversy almost brings people together and builds people up. There were some agreeable statements, but Cameron was not ok with that fact being accepted. He said instead of accepting that as fact, we should strive to make it the best and “perfect” it could become, but in fact it is unavoidable. The conversation then shifted to a more grey area instead of black and white, as we concluded that there is not necessarily always the “good guy” and “bad guy” in a group of people. In movies and TV shows we see the “villain” and most all other characters’ root against them, but in real life, not one person gets ostracized as the “villain”, but in an essence, we are all “a Derek.” We all fail, we all exclude, we all fall short of sin and acceptance. At one point, whether we want to or not, the evil will come out, and we must be the ones in the community to love the “Derek” through it and accept that person’s flaws. We pointed out how we become “Dereks” or make people “Dereks” in our everyday conversations, and the only thing we can do is be better from our past “Derek” mistakes. The final question I asked was: “What kind of person do you want to be?” After some thought, characteristics were thrown out of being yourself, and making a difference, we concluded that while we might not have life figured out, we can still make an impact, which will be different for all of our lives, and we can strive towards better and away from being the “Derek”.

*Name changed

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Indiana Kitchen Table: How to Live Well Together

By Gabe

My Kentucky Kitchen Table was different than most of those that were done for this project due to one simple fact: it was not done in the state of Kentucky, but rather, in my hometown of Santa Claus, Indiana. So, for the rest of this post, I will refer to the meal as the Indiana Kitchen Table. In a quick preview, the meal went very well and smoothly, and the conversations flowed well with some great content in the discussions, with credit given to the fact that while I may not have known everyone there, everyone else knew each other, which heavily contributed to the conversation not running dry. Beforehand, I was a little nervous that it wouldn’t go well at all, but in retrospect, it was a great experience to pick the brains of others when it comes to citizenship and democracy as a whole and caused me to do some reflection and deeper thinking of society.

The dinner took place at the home at the home of my girlfriend, Kate, who had family friends over who I had not gotten to meet yet. Her family insisted on making the meal rather than everyone bringing a dish (delicious Stromboli and salad), yet the family friends, who love to bake, still brought a cake for dessert. There was a total of nine people at the dinner: Kate, Ray, Denise, Spencer, Kelsey, Kylee, Ray, and Colleen. Kate is a senior at the high school I am from, and plans on attending Western next year. Ray, her father, is an eighth-grade history teacher, and Denise, Kate’s mother, works at a local hospital. Spencer is a graduate student at the University of Kentucky who is in dental school and plans on being a dentist, and his wife, Kelsey, who is one of Kate’s sisters, is also a student at the University of Kentucky and is in PA school. Both are going to graduate soon. Kylee, the other sister, graduated from WKU last year, and now is living in New York City and works at a marketing firm. There was another Ray at the dinner who works in finance, and his wife, Colleen, owns her own travel agency; Colleen and her husband have been all over the world. Ray and Colleen are close friends of Ray and Denise, and I had not gotten the pleasure of meeting them yet, nor have I had much deep conversation with her sisters and brother-in-law as they are well into their dependent lives. The dinner was a great opportunity to meet Ray and Colleen and also to get to know Kate’s family members better.

The group lacked in diversity as far as race goes, as all members are white. However, they had diversity in some other areas, such as of age, experience, field, and economic status. Ray and Denise are of middle class, while Ray and Colleen are more towards upper middle class. Kylee, Kelsey, and Spencer are all fresh into their independent lives, and Kelsey and Spencer will contract large amounts of debt due to their graduate school expenses. Ray and Denise are in their upper 40’s, along with Ray and Colleen; Spencer and Kelsey are in their upper 20’s, while Kylee is in her lower 20’s; meanwhile, Kate and I are 18 and 19, respectively.

Once dinner was served and after we all prayed as a group, we started to eat and general small talk ensued. Simple questions such as “What class is this project for? What are you going to gather from this project?” immediately were asked. After answering these, I responded with a question of my own, and decided it would be best if we addressed the main subject and effectively broke the ice before relying on some of the other questions offered on our handout packets. I delved straight into the topic at hand: beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to all of you? Right away, Kate’s father, Ray, straightened up to answer. Ray strongly believes in being an active citizen, and participating in our democracy is a very important part of that belief. He spoke of several actions one is obligated to do as a citizen in his view, such as advocating for stances on issues, calling your state representative, and being educated and well read on the current state of problems and issues, among other things. Collen added on to this by mentioning that we can exercise our right to protest. These obvious suggestions did not strike me as peculiar or extensively thought provoking; while they are correct ways to be active in a democracy and a citizen, I yearned for deeper and more intricate responses. Spencer was the first person that supplied my yearning. He agreed with all of the suggestions Ray made, while also adding that one can also participate in events in their respective communities in order to make practical contributions to strengthening our society and becoming closer as a people. Once he made that comment, my brain triggered a connection already between our class and this dinner: what Spencer had said could be one of many possible answers to the central question of “how do we live well together?” I pointed this out to the group, and in reflection, this was one of my favorite points made the entire evening as it incited me to think further on this question, which I will get to further on in this writing.

After these points were made, Kelsey addressed a different side of this question: rather than ways to participate, she answered what citizenship meant to her. From her view, being a citizen is more than how one can participate in democracy. She views it as how we act in how communities, how we treat and respect one another, and what we do to be there for each other in times of struggle and prosperity. Being a good citizen is more than completing objectives as if they are on a checklist, but rather doing the intangible things, such as being kind, loving and respecting all people, regardless of views, race, sexual orientation, gender, and religion. Once again, this made me think of our central question of how do we live well together. Kylee, Kate, and Colleen agreed with this viewpoint heavily, and easily concurred with Kelsey’s opinion. The men of the group agreed, but dissented that while being kind and respectful is important, it does not practically solve the problems that our nation faces.

As I said earlier, the entire conversation provoked me to do some much deeper thought on the matter. Hearing the perspectives of other people, even those who are not familiar to me, provided insight that I had not thought of in a realistic sense. I come from a close-knit hometown where people participate and are involved, and everyone is kind and respectful of another; while I may have been living in that type of environment, I had never had the thought of what may result from applying it to communities and people all across the country cross my mind. The way that I see the current state of our nation, people get so heavily wrapped up into political parties and nationwide issues, and rather than doing practical applications to make these wicked problems better, we as a society instead get absorbed into debate. While nationwide issues are of great importance and political parties are an efficient way to channel our stances and approaches of handling issues, they are even furthermore complicated and can take extremely long amounts of time to see change and progression.

Much like Spencer pointed out, I believe that we as people rather can focus on our individual towns, counties, and cities, and involve ourselves to make more productive improvements. We can get involved in service opportunities to one another, engage in deliberative discourse, or help to organize, promote, and effectively run neighborhood events that can bind the people living in them together. Rather than waiting for a never-ending concept of “others to take action” or an overarching body to pursue these endeavors, the people who make up our individual localities can take up the mantle of progressing society in the ways such as Spencer mentioned. Once we have stronger individual communities, others can follow suit, and this could attribute to amending nationwide issues in the long run. If we can live better together through engaging in our hometowns, we can lean on one another and can collectively cooperate on the other central questions, such as how we should solve problems, and how we can have more say over ourselves.

Moreover, we can enhance our personal communities not only through how we involve ourselves in our communities, but also how we treat and respect one another in them. Much like what Kelsey said, if we give each other respect, kindness, honesty, and fairness, this can enhance how we live well together, and can make our communities closer knit and supportive, much like the one I was raised in. Through this type of relationship, solving problems, coordinating events to help solve issues, and other activities can be easier achieved, and the other two central questions can be easily addressed.

After my thoughts had been stimulated, the deep and introspective dinner conversation soon faded and formed charismatic and rich togetherness, as those who knew each other caught up and the family friends enjoyed their evening together. I felt as if we were starting the beginnings of answering that crucial central question right there through our fellowship together, and a project that initially seemed impractical and unappealing to me now was a pleasant and eye-opening experience, full of learning that I had not expected to encounter: from insight ranging on what being an active citizen looks like– according to Ray who is active in his democracy– such as writing representatives, advocating stances on issues, and being educated on the state of problems and the options to approach them; methods that may seem more time efficient and personal, much like Spencer mentioned, such as coordinating community events or serving in your respective communities and becoming involved; to what his wife, Kelsey, had to say—that being a citizen is more than performing actions or providing service, but can also include how we treat one another and truly live well together.  Life is full of learning. We must seize every opportunity we can in order to better ourselves as a society. Whether that be at formal, academic deliberations, or at simple Kentucky—or rather, Indiana—kitchen tables.

 

Kentucky Kitchen Table: Related, not Synonymous

By CarolineCaroline Camfield Kentucky Kitchen Table

San Diego, Switzerland, New Orleans, Charleston, Cincinnati, California, Louisville, Bowling Green: Out of everyone at my Kentucky Kitchen Table, at least two (if not three or four) had been to all of these places. Part of the reason, everyone (besides me that is) is at least related by marriage and can be tied into my jump rope coach, who hosted the dinner in her home; Julie, a 60-year-old mother of one, who after growing up in Louisville, KY and attending college at Western Kentucky University, spent several years travelling across the globe, utilizing her master’s degree in teaching to teach English as a Second Language in Europe. This is where her husband David is from (although they actually met at a hotel in California, and her sister Lynn was the one to meet him first.) David, a Swiss immigrant first came to the United States as an adult to travel and did not plan on actually moving here until he met Julie and they married. After Julie and he returned to her hometown of Louisville, David attended the University of Louisville’s Speed School of Engineering and currently works as an engineer. Julie’s sister Lynn, who is 5 years older than her sister, also grew up in Louisville and attended Western Kentucky University. After college, however, she worked in the field of social work until Julie convinced her to join her in some of her travels (which because her and her husband Paul don’t have any children they still spend a large amount of time travelling.) Currently, Lynn lives in Northern Kentucky and just recently retired from being a preschool teacher at a school in one of Cincinnati’s poorest neighborhoods. Paul grew up in California with “libertarian parents” who’s views did not necessarily align with his own; he worked in New Orleans as a cab driver for several years (before he moved to Northern Kentucky) and currently works as a substitute math teacher.  Then finally, there is Julie’s daughter, Murray, a 20-year-old college student who followed in her Aunt and Mother’s footsteps and attended Western Kentucky University and is currently a math and English double-major.

The dietary constraints at the meal were almost as diverse as the places everyone had travelled; from vegan to paleo to vegetarian, almost everyone had their own unique considerations when it came to choosing what foods to bring. However, since the two people following the vegan and paleo diets are somewhat relaxed in maintaining these diets, especially when desserts are involved, they weren’t taken into account for a few of the food choices. To the meal, I provided the first and last courses (even though not everyone ate them in that order); I brought a salad consisting of assorted greens, fresh cut corn, strawberries, tomatoes, carrots, and peppers, and individual bread pudding cups topped with bourbon sauce for dessert. For our main dish, Julie baked a layered spinach and tomato pasta dish she makes frequently enough for her daughter that I’ve had it a few times before when I was at their house. Lynn and Paul both contributed fresh fruit, cubed pineapple and chocolate-covered strawberries, respectively. David provided asiago and cinnamon crunch bagels from Panera (since he receives a free bagel everyday this month, which is quite fitting since the majority of us at the table partake in as many opportunities to receive and utilize free-food offers as we can.) And finally, Murray contributed milk to the table and while not everyone drank it, it did lead to her telling the story of how she convinced a few young jumpers from the jump rope team in Trinidad and Tobago that since she drank milk at meals other than breakfast, she calls herself a milk girl. And this was how the majority of the dinner went; sometimes ideas and beliefs were stated explicitly but mostly they were woven into the conversations through stories.

This idea became especially clear when I asked he table what their ideal community would be, because, for the most part, they answered with locations they’ve previously lived instead of descriptions of the qualities of a community like I expected. This highlights how everyone, except for Murray and me, is very well traveled and their travels have all impacted their lives in some way. Julie was first one to answer this question and declared she wanted to live in a beach community (and later changed it to an alternative beach community/co-op once hearing everyone else’s ideas.) This was another theme throughout the meal, everyone was fairly willing to change their ideas of what they wanted after someone else had an idea they liked better. This ties back into the concept of the Elephant and the Rider, discussed in the except we read in class from Haidt’s Righteous Mind, since while everyone’s elephant initially led them in one direction, the elephant was sometimes very easily swayed to another when it thought that that could be a better option (leaving the rider to adjust the justifications accordingly.) As for everyone else, Paul wanted to move back down to New Orleans because of the unique atmosphere there and the diverse group of people he encountered while working as a taxi-driver. When first asked the question, Lynn described how she’d live in a diverse community, like Paul, enjoying the variety of perspectives that subsequently arise out of diverse backgrounds (but then after hearing the rest of the table’s responses, she changed hers to a beach community, which depending on the exact location can prove to be a diverse mixture many different demographics.)

Since the overall dynamic at the table promoted the sharing of stories, which, as it oftentimes does, got off topic, preventing everyone from explicitly sharing their ideas of what they believe it means to be a citizen, the viewpoints that were shared surprisingly varied more than their answers to every other topic that was mentioned (although unsurprisingly their responses still fed off of one another quite a bit.) Lynn was the first to answer and described her belief that being a citizen gives you the right to peacefully protest, and thus influence how society is run. Paul almost directly opposed this by describing how he believed that while being a citizen gives you the ability to protest, he enjoys how you also have the ability and freedom to stay quiet if you are so inclined due to the freedom of speech. Furthermore, he emphasized how ideally, all freedoms would be granted and respected by society (which while it would eliminate the need for some protest it would depend on having an almost perfect society.) Murray then proceeded to explain that while she believes being a citizen does give you the ability to not voice your opinion if you don’t want to, she also believes speaking up for others with less privilege (and who aren’t able to do so) is an obligation. Her ideas fed off both her aunt and uncle’s, agreeing and disagreeing with ideas from both, which goes to show that while she grew up hearing their beliefs, she has still formed her own and not just conformed to the ones surrounding her. For the most part, everyone did have their own distinct beliefs concerning each topic we discussed, yet at times everyone was more than willing to adapt their ideas to someone else’s if a new idea was presented. This openness caught me by surprise a little since the dynamic in many families merely focuses on convincing others of your beliefs instead of actually listening to what everyone thought.

At this table especially, everyone brought a set of their own fairly unique experiences, which in turn influenced their opinions. When discussing social issues that were closest to our heart, Lynn mentioned that she witnessed racism occur between people of both the same race and of different ones while teaching at her school, even though the population there consisted almost entirely of African Americans. Yet through talking with other teachers and students, she was able to adapt her perspectives to accommodate their experiences that she sympathized with, yet would never truly experience. Likewise, Paul felt that education was important to him, stemming from his current job, and David said that the decreasing middle class was an issue needing to be addressed since he is a part of that demographic. Murray followed this trend by saying, somewhat indecisively, that animal rights and sustainability were both issues she felt connected to (especially animal rights since, as she explained, it was only after learning that animals were treated so poorly before they were processed into food for consumption that she eliminated the already minimal amount of meat from her diet.) She then followed up with the statement that while these two issues matter to her, she realizes they aren’t the most pressing issues faced by society; in addition, she also believes that LGBTQ rights and feminine equality are important, even though she may not be able to influence the causes as directly as she can with the other two. Out of everyone’s responses, Murray was the only one who mentioned an example of actually making an effort to combat the social issue they felt closest to, and although this could be because some of the other issues are broader and could be more intimidating to tackle, it may also signify a generational change, or a combination of both if young adults today are standing up not for the broader issues, but for more specific ones, and by doing so they feel more able to make an impact and thus are attempting to do so.

An evening with new friends

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By Caleb

Even though I have been at college for just half a semester, I can say that Honors 251 (Citizen and Self) is one of my favorite classes here at WKU. The critical thinking and discussion format of the class is something that as a biology major I do not get very often. Furthermore, the discussions have been far more civil than I have seen before. It is much more often a deliberation rather than a debate. This being said, I was very nervous about the project. I was unsure of how well the discussion would go or if I would have anything constructive to say. Regardless of my initial feelings, I was still excited for the very unique project and approached the table with as much confidence as I could muster. The saying “fake it till you make it” is somewhat appropriate here.

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in the city of Bowling Green not too far off from campus. Though I had planned it in my mind to eventually schedule a Kentucky Kitchen Table in my hometown, this specific table was prescheduled for me by my professor who had offered it to anyone who wanted an easy, local table to go to. It was clearly a good opening I was willing to take. Additionally, this table also involved member from the Honors College, so this dinner turned out to be a great opportunity to get to know members of the Mahurin Honors College better.

I was emailed that there would be four of us in attendance, though there would only be three of us in total because one of our other guests, Sharon, was unable to make it. I got into contact with the other student I would be eating with beforehand. Her name was Taylor-Grace and was a freshman in the other Honors College Citizen and Self class. We decided it would be best to carpool together since I had a car on campus.

Coming into the driveway, the house was beautiful with vines growing on the side, a swing on the front porch, and pumpkins to signal the fall festivities ahead. Being warmly welcomed inside, I immediately noticed how tastefully furnished the house was. We joked that it looked as if it came right out of the TV show fixer upper on HGTV. The dinner was being held in the home of our host, Caitlin who worked as the coordinator of constituent relations in the Mahurin Honors College. She was twenty-six years old, a WKU alum, and her husband also worked at WKU in the sports department as the media director. Though we were all connected to Western and the Mahurin Honors College, I would soon find we had some diverse interests and opinions to bring to the table.

For dinner we had a wonderful jambalaya made by Caitlin. There was also some delicious greens picked from Caitlin’s parents’ garden.  Taylor-Grace and I contributed by bringing some sweet desserts to eat later. I brought a s’more dessert that my mom has made for years. Taylor-Grace brought a Bowling Green classic: a box of doughnuts from the Great American Donut Shop which is near campus. The two flavors of blueberry and glazed happened to be some of my favorite.

After some time eating and introducing ourselves we started asking some questions suggested to us in our preparation materials. The conversation started out with the same question as all the other Kentucky Kitchen Tables, “beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Caitlin was the first to respond saying that citizenship is definitely beyond the bare minimum of what’s expected of citizens. She differentiated “good” citizens and “bad” citizens. Bad citizenship is doing bare minimum, only paying taxes and following laws. Though this is not necessarily being a bad citizen in the sense of actively harming the community, this group of people are not giving their part to the community. The “good” form of citizenship she described was the opposite the complete opposite. She emphasized some simple and good things we can do to be better citizens, for example getting to know our neighbors and volunteering our time to charitable organizations. These are steps that are achievable by most anyone and can be taken in small strokes. Caitlin told us about how she volunteers the first Wednesday of every month and makes sure to contribute to the community. Caitlin also mentioned that she saw a clear connection between what she does at the Honors College and how it helps her in her role as a citizen. By promoting the Honors College and helping fund the projects she does, her reach helps students, faculty, and community members alike.

Taylor -Grace and I agreed with everything she had to say relating it to our own Honors 251 (Citizen and Self) class. We both added how a good citizen should be able to talk about difficult issues with one another without letting our own beliefs get in the way of moving toward a common goal. I specifically mentioned how in my own community, I feel like rarely can citizens ever talk about topics with as much civility as our class. This was especially apparent in students from my own high school. Taylor-Grace went on to mention how the class reminded her GSP [Governor’s Scholar Program] seminar to which I agreed with her. In seminar, difficult topics were discussed in a way where we did our best to empathize with others even if they experience or opinion they were describing was different from our own. We both felt the class promotes productive and open conversation about issues that are pertinent today which I felt was reflected in the conversations we were having that night. I was constantly reminded of the article “How We Talk Matters,” where we discussed the importance of productive conversation. This conversation arrived when diverse and different opinions are used to fuel a multi-perspective argument rather than a divided and polarized view.

After that conversation seemed to have ended we went to the preparatory materials for another discussion question, and we then began to talk about some social issues that we felt were close to our heart. Caitlin was first again to say that she wanted to stop animal abuse here in Bowling Green relating it to her own dogs. I mentioned suicide and depression as many of those close to me have dealt with or continue to deal with the awful disease. I felt this topic was close to me because the answer is in helping others understand the disease and have more empathy for one another. When it came to Taylor-Grace, she couldn’t really pick just one issue so instead talked about an anecdotal issue in her hometown. The Winterfest Toys for Kids is a program that allows kids who would otherwise not gotten anything for Christmas an opportunity to get a gift. Volunteers shop from an open ended shopping list to get kids that gift under the tree. I and Caitlin both talked about similar programs in our own hometowns.

Afterwards, we dug into the question about the types of people we wanted to be in the future. Caitlin said she wanted to be the kind of person that people respected when they saw her. She was quick to clarify that it was not for popularity reasons and did not want to demand it from others. She instead described how she instead wanted to earn it through her actions so that those she has touched in her life can look to her and say that she is a respectable person. Taylor-Grace said that she wanted to be a good friend. She wanted to be the person that people can turn to in times of trouble and wants to live an open life. I said I wanted to be the person that is always growing and always learning. From day to day, week to week, and year to year, I want to be a better than the person I was before. I think there is something to learn from every day and something new to grow from just around the corner in my life. I can also see how the bridge can be useful in this context. In order to achieve the goals we have in life, it is crucial to understand not only one but both sides of “the bridge,” where one side is where we are at and the other side is where we want to be as a society/world. We need to understand who we are now and what are capabilities are so that we know what we our possibilities are, and the other side needs to be well defined and understood in so that you can approach life with a clear goal in mind. Otherwise you are aimlessly moving from day to day not approaching the goal in mind directly or efficiently. So you must know yourself and what you want if you want your dreams to become a reality.

We finished up the night by digging into the desserts. We kept on talking letting college, home, and just life frame each conversation jumping from topic to topic just letting the conversation flow. I’m certain we stayed longer than Caitlin expected, but the project turned into a unique growing opportunity to get to know two strangers better. I learned the simple power of getting out of your comfort zone to just enjoy the simple things about life like the kindness of strangers, the civility of a conversation, or simply delicious home cooked food! Overall, the night was one of wonderful food, wonderful conversation, and wonderful people.

A Meal Back Home

By Ellie

 

When I first read the syllabus for Honors 251, I saw the description for Kentucky Kitchen Table and immediately started to stress out. I didn’t know when I would be able to come home to do the project, or if anybody I knew would even be willing to help me by agreeing to be interviewed. After the explanation given in class, though, I figured it would be better to get it over with. Since I was going home this past weekend, I asked my parents if it would be okay to host a Kentucky Kitchen Table when I came home. We were already hosting a potluck that Sunday, so they suggested that I sit down all the people I wanted to interview at one table and ask them my questions about citizenship. Before the event, I asked the ladies I wanted to interview if they would be okay doing it while they were at my house and they all agreed. My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place at my home in Mayfield, Kentucky on October 15, 2017. I hosted the event on a Sunday morning after church services in my family’s 4 car garage. We ate a potluck style meal, with lots of home-cooking that I hadn’t had in weeks. I was overjoyed to be able to eat food that wasn’t a greasy pizza or burger. This was the first chance I had since school has started to see anybody from church and say more than “Hello. Yes, school is going well.” I was excited to have the opportunity to have a real discussion with women who helped make me into the person I am today.

I invited several women who go to church with me back home to participate in this project. There were 7 women and 1 little boy present during the conversation. Mrs. Peggy is an independent woman who lives alone and is famous in Mayfield for her hostess skills. Ms. Marti is a widow who spends her days knitting blankets for expectant mothers in our congregation. Mrs. Pat is an Avon saleswoman who met her husband of 52 years while attending Western Kentucky University (her three children later went on to attend there). Mrs. Kay is a Chicago native who has three children, one of whom joined the military. She spends her days now watching her 2 youngest grandchildren for her other son. Mrs. Janice works at the local senior center in Mayfield and has a grandson that I babysit regularly during the summers. My mother also attended, and she is a high school Family and Consumer Sciences teacher at McCracken County High School. Also at the table was Brayden, the 5-year-old grandson of Mrs. Janice, but he was more concerned with eating the sugar cookies my mom had made instead of contributing to the conversation about citizenship. None of these women seem to have any particular qualities in common, beyond their belief in God, but all of these women are very close to each other. These are the type of women who care for others needs before their own and have taught me to try and do the same. I was curious to see what some of their answers would be to the questions I was supposed to ask.

I knew that I really had no reason to be, but I was a little nervous to discuss some of the questions with these women. Most of them are very conservative minded, so I had a general idea of what answers to expect, but I also didn’t know how they would react to being interviewed. Also, a few of these women were elder’s wives, which means they can hold sway over my dad’s job as a preacher, so if I said something that came off wrong, it could potentially negatively impact my dad’s position. They already knew that this project was for school, and were very willing to help. Some of the answers that came out during the meal actually didn’t seem 100% conservative, and that honestly shocked me.  I was happy to have diversity, that I wasn’t yet aware of, present at our kitchen table.

I began our conversation by asking the basic question of what citizenship meant to each of the strong women at that kitchen table. Mrs. Peggy and Mrs. Marti responded that citizenship to them meant freedom, and I asked for an elaboration from the group on what that meant. Mrs. Kay responded that to her, citizenship meant putting your hand over your heart when you hear the national anthem, and that you stand when you hear the pledge of allegiance. To Mrs. Pat, citizenship means being able to worship freely, and to everyone else at the table, they all responded that citizenship meant having the right to freedom of speech. One of the most interesting answers I got was when I asked these women what kind of community they wanted to live in. Mrs. Kay answered that she wanted to live in a world where she didn’t have to lock her doors at night, which seemed a bit odd to me since I know she is from Chicago. After thinking about her response, I later figured that she has learned a lot from small-town life and craves that experience for the rest of the country, even in places that are more densely populated. Everyone at the table responded that a community with unlocked doors was something they crave as well. When thinking back to the video we watched in class of the little Japanese girl who was run over by a moving truck, I asked all the ladies if they felt that we had a moral responsibility to help people in our community and the world, and they all unanimously responded that we all have a responsibility to help our fellow neighbor. I can’t remember who said it, but one of the women responded that that is part of what being a Christian is all about. When asked what advice they would give to their neighbors, the advice that really stuck out to me was to always put others first. Mrs. Kay agreed with that statement and went a step farther to say that God comes first, then others, and then you. One of the last questions I asked was whether or not they had meals at a kitchen table with their neighbors and family growing up. They all smiled and started to reminisce about their childhood. One commented that she enjoyed these meals because it gave her family a chance to catch up after a long day of work. Another commented that she enjoyed these types of meals because it was time for families to nurture their relationships with each other.

As our conversation progressed throughout the meal, I found myself thinking back to the readings we did on empathy by Leslie Jamison (The Empathy Exams) . These women I interviewed have all had vastly different life experiences, and I know that I will never experience what it’s like to go through some of the hardships they have gone through, so the best I can do is imagine what they have been through and try to empathize once they start discussing their childhood experiences.  When I did ask that question about social issues, all of those present chose issues that they had experience with, which also relates back to the idea that empathy can influence your decisions when you are close to a situation. Because of life experiences, women’s rights were an answer that came up almost immediately when asked about what social issues resonated closely with them. A few of these women were widowed fairly young, so this issue is important to them because they were left to provide for themselves, and even their children, in a world that only a few years ago, wouldn’t have given them the option to work. I have never been in a situation where I wasn’t allowed to work or do something because I’m a woman, so listening to their answers elicited empathy from me.

What really stood out to me during the meal was that even after I had finished asking questions pertaining to the assignment, the conversation still went back to topics about citizenship. At one point, towards the end of the meal, Mrs. Kay even looked at me and said, “Put this in your assignment.” as they were discussing citizenship later when they thought my interview was over. This helped me realize how important the topic of citizenship was to everyone, including people you normally don’t think about being extremely patriotic. It also taught me how drastically America has changed, even in the past few years. If you had asked any of these women to interview someone while they were in college about if they ate at a kitchen table growing up, they would have laughed because virtually everyone did that.

Overall, this experience was very rewarding to me. I was not sure how the project would work out at home, but it was really enlightening to see how these women’s life experiences have shaped their view of our society and country. I enjoyed getting to learn more about the way my role models think, and it helped me learn how many different interpretations of citizenship there really are. Overall, the women at my Kentucky Kitchen Table were proud to be citizens of the United States of America, and I am proud that I had the chance to interview all of them.

A Dinner with New Friends

By Taylor-Grace

When we were introduced to the idea of Kentucky Kitchen Table, I was more than ecstatic because food and people are two of my favorite things. I knew that I wanted to do my Kentucky Kitchen Table in Bowling Green rather than my hometown from the very beginning; mainly because I thought the idea of getting to know citizens of Bowling Green would be much more interesting. I am so glad that I got to experience this…Now let’s dive into the dinner!

I was assigned to be hosted by Caitlin, who is a coordinator for constituent relations in the Mahurin Honors College. Caitlin lives here in Bowling Green, not very far from campus. Her home was gorgeous! It looked just like one that you would see on Fixer Upper on HGTV. Caleb, a student in another Citizen and Self seminar, also joined us for dinner. Caleb and I decided to carpool from Western Kentucky University’s campus to Caitlin’s house for convenience. We both took desserts for us to have after our dinner that night.

When we arrived, Caitlin led us through her living room into her kitchen, which connected to the dining room. We sat our desserts on the island in the kitchen and then took our seats at the table. Caitlin had prepared a jambalaya for dinner with roasted zucchini and squash from her parents’ garden. Caitlin then offered us a choice of tea, water, or ginger beer for our beverage. Caleb was brave enough to go out of his comfort zone and he tried the [non-alcoholic] ginger beer. Our meal was absolutely delicious. I loved every bite of it!

We discussed many different subjects during our dinner, but we first started off with talking about Western Kentucky University, our majors, our favorite class, and how Caitlin attended Western Kentucky University as well. Caitlin, who was originally from Breckinridge County, Kentucky, was a public relations major during her time here at Western Kentucky University and went on to work in Public Relations for Country Music Television after college, but then decided that she missed Western Kentucky University and thus decided to begin working at the university. Caleb, who is from Barren County, Kentucky, major’s in biology and he is on a pre-med track. I find this impressive because I know that I would never be able to have the time and dedication to do this. I, Taylor-Grace, told Caitlin and Caleb that my major was marketing and explained that I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with it yet. Caleb and I both agreed that Honors 251 was our favorite class. My reasoning being because it reminded me so much of the Governor’s Scholars Program and the seminars that I had during my time there. Caleb also attended Governor’s Scholars Program and said that it reminded him of seminar as well. We both discussed our love for the Governor’s Scholars Program and the friendships that we had made there. When you go to the Governor’s Scholars Program you can always make a connection with typically anyone around you, we discussed how we had mutual friends from the Governor’s Scholars Program. Caitlin explained to us that this class did not exist when she was a student in the honors college. She went on to tell us that her and her husband met while they were both students at Western Kentucky University, but what was interesting, was that they had not met before, though they both grew up only 15 minutes apart and knew some of the same people, but didn’t know each other until they met at a tailgate. She said that she was eating a BBQ sandwich that she had gotten from the Honors College and he asked where she had gotten it. She said that they began dating soon after that and that they’ve been together ever since.

I then asked Caitlin the required question, “beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws what does citizenship mean to you?” She responded with, “It means being a good neighbor, giving back to your community through volunteerism, and getting involved.” She talked about how it’s going the extra mile instead of just doing what is required of you. We all agreed with this statement and felt like we’re pretty good citizens, but there is always more that we can do to be better. When we discussed this topic, I thought a lot about the three central questions. Specifically, “how do we live better (or less badly) together?” If we all take part in our citizenship, we will all be living better together. When people choose to not act accordingly as citizens, they are not working towards living better together.

We also talked a lot about how volunteerism is important in all of our communities and we asked each other the question of what our favorite philanthropy was. Caitlin stated that her passion was animals and she wants to do what she can to reduce animal abuse in the community of Bowling Green. Caleb talked about suicide and depression are important to him and he wants to do what he can with that specific cause. I personally could not pick one for certain because there are numerous events that I have worked to give back to the community, but one that I hold special to my heart is Winterfest Toys for Kids. I explained the Caitlin and Caleb that I grew up in a very rural community where many children go without meals during their summer and Christmas break and how many of those children don’t have a toy to find under their Christmas tree on Christmas morning Winterfest Toys for Kids was designed so that underprivileged children in my hometown and their families can have a Christmas dinner together. At the dinner, each child in attendance receives a Christmas gift. Many of the children wait to open the gift until Christmas morning. Events like this give me a better appreciation for the opportunities that I have and the things I have been blessed with. This topic relates greatly to our reading about “To Hell with Good Intentions,” by Ivan Illich but in a positive way. All of the issues that were on our hearts were things that could be helped and fixed right here in the United States. This helped me to see that there are so many problems here that we can work towards solving and we don’t have to go overseas to help out.

After discussing the issue that was closest to each of our hearts, we talked about what type of people we wanted to be. We all agreed that we wanted to be better people and that we wanted people to be able to look at us and say, “oh, they’re doing something good!” Caitlin said that she wanted to be respected. She explained that it was not in a way that demanded respect, but rather by doing good and people seeing the good that she is doing and them being able to say they want to do good like her, as if she was being a role model. I thought this response to the question was awesome! And it honestly made me look up to her in saying this because I hope to one day say the same thing for myself. Caleb explained that he wants to be the person who is always learning and always growing. I thought that that was something great to be too. I explained to Caleb and Caitlin that I wanted people to see me as a loyal friend. Someone that they could depend on in any time of need. I feel like that all of these attributes and types of people that we want to be are people needed in the world.

We then concluded our dinner by eating donuts from Great American Donuts and having small talk about Western Kentucky University, college, and just life in general. I am so beyond thankful for this experience because it allowed me to step out of my comfort zone in discussing some huge topics with people that I had never known before the night began. Kentucky Kitchen Table is an experience that I probably will never have something else that is similar to it. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to meet Caitlin and Caleb because they are people who I will be able to connect with even beyond this point during my next four years at Western Kentucky University. Kentucky Kitchen Table has had an even greater impact on my life than I had imagined it would and I am thankful for that. I believe that this was such a great learning experience and it is a project that should continue to take place in Honors 251 with Elizabeth. Having this experience of talking to two people that I did not know, has also helped me to have better comments and discussion points in Honors 251. Overall, I am just genuinely happy about my experience with Kentucky Kitchen Table. If the opportunity arises, I would SO do it all over again.

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Table Talk for Togetherness

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By Sabrina

On a rainy Thursday evening, I trekked the 15 minute walk into unknown territory for a dinner. Nervous, but excited, I knocked on the door, cookies in hand, to meet our gracious host, McKenzie.

The apartment was decorated with Western Kentucky University paraphernalia, and an eager dog, Johnny greeted me.

Our dinner in Bowling Green, Kentucky was very relaxed with plentiful helpings of macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets. We gathered around on the couches and kitchen counters,  discussing majors, hometowns, and traveling.

McKenzie, our host, is a graduate student at Western Kentucky University. She is from a rural area outside of Louisville. Johnny, her dog, remained close to her side, and she shared with us her love for senior dogs. Mckenzie is the oldest of five in her family.

Hannah, another student in Honors 251, is studying to become a nurse anesthesiologist. Hannah is the youngest in her family, and both her older sister and brother also attended Western Kentucky University. Outgoing and friendly, Hannah talked about her cat she misses at home and her tight-knit group of friends she has made her at Western.

As we ate our meal, we discussed how our semester was going. McKenzie and I, both having communication in our degrees, discussed our favorite professors in the field. Mckenzie studied abroad in England at Harlaxton, saying she would love to live in England. After living in Kentucky for 23 years, she is ready to travel and go someplace new, but it will still be a few years, as she finishes school in 2019. Hannah and I both asked her many questions about study abroad, as I plan on studying abroad the Spring of 2018 in England at East Anglia University in Norwich. Hannah would like to go on some trips, but specifically a trip to Bolivia, where nursing students get the opportunity to help people with various medical needs.

When asked, “what does citizenship mean to you?” McKenzie pondered the thought for a while before responding. She concluded that it means helping each other out, as we are all here on this Earth, we might as well make it easier for each other. We get so wrapped into our own lives, but kindness and being helpful is a small thing that can make a huge difference. Hannah and I agreed. Hannah added that we all need to be kind to each other because we don’t know what is going on in people’s lives, and the harmony it gives can bring us all together. I added that citizenship is about community, and working to live well with people around us.

Jokingly, McKenzie asked “what does citizenship mean to you, Johnny?” Johnny, wagging his tail, stared up at Mckenzie, his eyes begging for food and attention. Throughout the dinner, he strutted around, eyeing plates of food, and even being adventurous enough to climb the couch and almost reach over to my plate on the table, but he proved to be slightly too short. “Is it about getting chicken nuggets?” she asked, feeding one to the now elated dog.

We asked each other how we liked living in Bowling Green, and we all agreed it is a nice place to live with low crime rates and things to do. Being from Nashville, I do get bored from time to time, and McKenzie agreed that she would like to live somewhere else eventually.

We discovered at the dinner that Hannah’s older sister and McKenzie knew each other beforehand, as Mckenzie has her Resident Assistant. Hannah was able to update Mckenzie on how her older sister was going, and they talked about an amazing trip her sister took to South Africa, full of helping people and animals, and petting wildlife.

From there, McKenzie talked about Johnny’s story. Johnny, her 10 year-old dog, was a fairly recent addition to her family, as her previous dog had passed away. Johnny was rescued from a Wal-Mart parking lot, where his previous owners had left him. The shelter took him in, and after being there for two months, Mckenzie decided to adopt him.

She asked us “Do either of you guys have dogs or pets at home?” to which i replied with my extensive story about our history of animals in the house, from cats to lizards. Both Mckenzie’s mom and my mom are not huge animal-lovers, so it was hard convincing our parents to let us have pets growing up.

Hannah has a cat, named Chunks, that was a birthday present a few years back. Her sister came across a litter of kittens, and was able to take some to care for, and Hannah fell in love with them.

While our conversations seemed relatively basic in writing, I found it interesting how our lives tied together in certain ways, and how easily conversation flowed among us. It truly demonstrated to me that people of various ages, majors, backgrounds, can sit down and still have a peaceful and enjoyable dinner. We helped each other throughout the dinner as well, by sharing our thoughts, giving tips about certain classes and professors, and showing enthusiasm for opportunities others had.

By doing this, we demonstrated our own sense of citizenship by being kind to each other. We each brought food for the others, provided each other transportation, and our host graciously opened up her house to the community.

I think doing events like this reminds us that we are a community and we work best when we get along with each other and take others’ lives into account. Hannah could have chosen not to give me a ride to the dinner, McKenzie could have chosen not to open up her home, each of us could have chosen not to bring food. All of these things are small things that didn’t take much effort, but show kindness and is simply a mannerly way of living in society. Community involves looking out for each other and putting aside differences and ultimately understanding other perspectives to better our relationships with other people in our community who may be different from us.

Our whole dinner and this assignment relates to one of our central questions in class, “How do we live well (or at least somewhat better) together?” Individually, each person has their own array of gifts and talents, as well as their own backgrounds and cultures. By working together, communities can strengthen each other and make the atmosphere we all live in more harmonious.

The Kentucky Kitchen Table dinner reminded me of one of our readings we did near the beginning of the semester by Keith Melville, called “How We Talk Matters.” Melville discusses how we shouldn’t be against each other, as we all live in this world together, which related to how our table views citizenship. It is not an “us versus them” mentality that we should have. We discussed issues rationally, and genuinely listened to each other’s thoughts and ideas, and built off of each other. Not only is this a more productive approach to talking about issues within our community, but it was a more sincere and thoughtful conversation, and demonstrated warmth and care for each other.
I was nervous going into the assignment, and part of me was dreaded it as I didn’t know the people I would be having dinner with, and I am generally shy around new people. However, the conversation seemed to run smoothly and while we have different interests and beliefs, we managed to find common-ground and had an enjoyable evening full of food and good conversation.