Kentucky Kitchen Table: A Night With New Friends

By Hunter

My name is Hunter and I will be describing my Kentucky Kitchen Table experience! Originally, I planned on having my table with my close family, however, this did not work out and so I was able to be connected with a table here in Bowling Green. This Kentucky Kitchen Table was kindly hosted by Molly and David at their home in Bowling Green . Along with David and Molly, the table consisted of Brady, Josie, Samantha, Caitlin and I.

There was a great deal of diversity among our table in terms of age and background. David is an English associate professor and teaches courses ranging from introduction to literature to creative writing. He is also an accomplished writer and has published several novels. He stated that he always keeps a pen at his side in case an idea for a project comes to mind. David has a great sense of humor and was able to keep the conversation going when things were a little awkward towards the beginning of the dinner. Molly used to be an instructor and advisor for creative writing majors and minors at a university, but now mainly focuses on her writing and has also published several novels. She is an extremely talented cook and made Mexican style lasagna with beans and rice, which everyone thought was phenomenal! Brady, Josie, and I all attend Western Kentucky University. Brady is majoring in entrepreneurship with a minor in theatre and is from Paducah, Kentucky. He lives in Minton Hall and loves to snowboard whenever he gets the chance. Josie is currently a freshman majoring in communication disorders and is from Marietta, Georgia. She just happened to fall in love with WKU after quickly touring it on her way to a visit at another college where she was offered an athletic scholarship. She currently lives on one of the top floors in Pearce Ford Tower and loves the view at dusk and dawn. Josie brought in wonderful homemade cookies to share with everyone! I am a junior and biochemistry major from Mercer, Kentucky. I live on the edge of campus and love walking to Snell Hall to work in an organic chemistry lab. I contributed to the dinner by bringing cookies and beverages. Both Samantha and Caitlin are still in high school. Samantha is a senior at a Bowling Green high school and is a close friend of Molly and David. She was described as being like their adopted daughter. She plans on going to college in Washington D.C. Caitlin attends a high school in Washington D.C. and was staying with Molly and David during her visit to Kentucky. She is considering attending WKU and had many questions about campus life for Brady, Josie and I.

Our conversation began by Brady, Josie and I describing to Caitlin a little about our backgrounds and what we loved about Western Kentucky University. We all agreed that we love hiking around campus and that it is easy to quickly walk to any of the lecture buildings, even though the hill can be exhausting. Molly also mentioned how beautiful she thinks WKU is and how great the view is from the top of campus. As the conversation progressed, we started conversing about our thoughts and experiences on the party scene at WKU. Even though Brady, Josie and I all agreed that it is very prevalent at WKU (even in the honors dorms), we all stated that it was something we tried to avoid but that we still saw it as tempting. This conversation made me think about the Paying for the Party book we have read for class. Based on our backgrounds, it appeared to me that Brady, Josie and I all fall into the “cultivated for success” category. We all come from middle class families where our parents have encouraged us to pursue lucrative careers. We all may work occasionally but still have time to make friends and to be involved on campus. This topic also made me reflect on one of the central questions we are exploring in this class, “How can we live well together?” Unlike Brady, Josie and I, low-income students are not being provided the same opportunities that we are and are having lonely college experiences. While we were having this wonderful meal provided by Molly and David, many other students were going to be working late into the night to pay for their college debts. Considering the amount of time I personally spend on homework, I see no way that any student working this much could sanely stay enrolled. It was also mentioned by Molly that almost all the Gatton Academy students she has ever instructed were highly successful in her courses. Maybe this is true because they fall into the cultivated for success category, but are restricted by the academy from being involved in the party scene.

Finally, the question of what citizenship means was brought up. Originally, Brady, Josie and I were going to record the conversation but decided the conversation would flow more naturally if we didn’t. David believed that citizenship means doing what you can for your community. He thought that it doesn’t necessarily matter what way you contribute, as long as you are giving what you can. For example, he believed that a rich business man giving large donations to charity is equally as important as a less wealthy individual volunteering at a charity. Or if a single mom can’t contribute wealth or time, then doing her best to raise her kids to be affable adults is sufficient. David’s statement about the single mother called to my mind the central question of our class, “How do we solve shared problems?” Even if someone doesn’t have the resources or time to become an involved member in their community, they can still help solve problems by simply trying to better themselves and their families. This statement also made me think of the article “Why Bother?” by Michael Pollan. Even though the mother may not be directly benefiting the community, she is still setting an example to other mothers and is achieving a sense of self fulfillment. Molly was in complete agreement with David’s description of citizenship and added on that as citizens we should campaign for the things we are passionate about. She also mentioned the importance of forming relationships with those in the community and helping neighbors in their times of need.

Overall, I believe the most important thing I learned from this dinner is the importance of reaching out to people in our community and forming new relationships. I think the best way we can live well together is by communicating and bonding with those around us. Molly described at one point in the dinner how she had reached out to a neighbor when they were in a time of need. Without her relationship with this neighbor, Molly would have had no clue that this person needed assistance. Relationships are not only important for helping others through tough situations but are also imperative for achieving happiness in our own lives. As mentioned in the “What Makes Us Happy?” article in The Atlantic. During an interview Vaillant, the lead researcher for the study, stated that  he found that the only thing that is important in life is forming relationships. In today’s world, it seems like most people associate happiness with success and neglect to form these relationships. As described in “The Snare of Preparation,” by Jane Addams, we often spend too much time preparing and too little time acting. If we are constantly preparing, then we will never have time to form relationships and to achieve happiness in our lives. Another thing I learned from this experience is that even though someone may not be appearing to help society in any way, they may be doing what that can to help themselves which is enough. Citizenship is about what you can do to make the world a better place to live in, not about keeping a time sheet of how much time you volunteer or how much money you give.

I am very glad that I ended up having my Kentucky Kitchen Table with Molly, David, Josie, Brady, Samantha and Caitlin! If I had done my KKT with my family, I would have not met these wonderful people! Before the dinner, I was skeptical and was expecting the experience to be a waste of my time. Luckily, I was wrong and thought the experience was very beneficial because it effectively portrayed to me how others from different backgrounds view citizenship. I would like to thank Molly and David for hosting our table. They were extremely cordial and provided us with a wonderful meal. To other students who will be conducting their Kentucky Kitchen Tables in the future, I would recommend trying to find a table with members of your community you don’t know very well. It’s a little stressful at first sitting around a table with complete strangers, however, after everyone begins to talk it becomes an enlightening experience. In the future, I’d love to take part in other Kentucky Kitchen Tables to meet more people from my community and to form new relationships!

KKT in BG

By Madison

On April 14th, I attended a Kentucky Kitchen Table dinner in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I was unable to do a dinner in my hometown, but I was beyond happy to meet new people. Lauren was the host for our dinner. We ate at her house in Bowling Green. We had five attendees for our dinner. These included: Lauren, Lauren’s daughter, Kaleb, Nicole, and myself. For our dinner, Lauren insisted on cooking for us, so it was agreed that the rest of us would simply attend. We enjoyed cranberry chicken salad sandwiches and spinach salad around a comfortable dining room table in Lauren’s house.

Not long into our dinner, I realized how much diversity we truly had at our table. Everyone came from a wide range of backgrounds and even age ranges. Lauren was the oldest at our table. Lauren’s daughter was by far the youngest at the age of two. The remaining three of us were around the same age. Lauren had grown up in New York and moved to Kentucky shortly after meeting her husband. Tenley had been growing up in Bowling Green and seemed to love it. Nicole had been raised in a moderately small town in Northeastern Kentucky, not far from my own hometown. Kaleb grew up in a town in central Kentucky named Somerset. I grew up in a quite small town in Northeastern Kentucky named Flemingsburg. Though we were all mostly from Kentucky, we all came from different regions of the state.

Seeing three of us attend Western Kentucky University and one of us teaches at the university, the question was brought up of why we chose to attend Western Kentucky University. Kaleb chose Western because it was a nice university that was moderately close to home for him. Nicole explained that she chose Western in order to get far from her hometown, which she was not very fond of. Furthermore, Lauren told us that she simply chose to teach at Western because it was the closest university to where her and her husband chose to settle. I told everyone that I chose to attend Western Kentucky University so that I could get away from the small town I was raised and experience life. Nicole and I both stated that living in a small town can give you the feeling that you are stuck there.

The first question that was brought about in our discussion was the question of what citizenship means. Lauren began by clarifying that citizenship, aside from the obvious things, means to have compassion for the society you live in. She stated, “You cannot help everyone, but you can do your part.” Every member of our dinner agreed with this statement. This is when we decided that all of our answers for this simple, yet complicated question al revolved around having compassion for your society. The most relevant thing we discussed within this question was the election and everything that Trump has put into action since being elected. Nicole stated that the American Health Care Act removal would have only benefitted rich white Americans, but those who had true passion for their society noticed this and came together to degrade the idea. After discussing the topic of the election and how compassion related to it, we began discussing the “American Dream.” Lauren showed her disgust for the label by saying it was all fake and unachievable, which was very much agreed on. This brought us to the topic of welfare. Kaleb and I both shared personal experiences with family difficulties.

We then moved onto the second question of what we thought the best things in our world were today. Lauren stated that her favorite thing about the Bowling Green community was being part of the fairness ordinance. Nicole stated she had attended the first meeting of the fairness ordinance, as well. Both Nicole and Lauren feel very strongly about having fair rights and equality for those of different sexual orientations. After this being brought up, we soon agreed that sexuality is not a lifestyle. Lauren explained her own experience behind this statement. At a fairness ordinance meeting, she had a man tell her that people of different sexual orientations did not need discrimination laws to protect them. He said that their choice of any sexual orientation was simply a lifestyle, only being what takes place in the bedroom. All of our attendees at our meeting agreed greatly that such a statement is untrue. The world is changing and Bowling Green must evolve to keep up. Nicole made it clear that without passing a fairness ordinance, Bowling Green is going to lose a lot of its diversity, which has been worked very hard for. After analyzing our opinions on equal anti-discrimination laws for those of other sexual orientations, we concluded that the key to fixing our world’s issues is to have compassion for your society.

As our discussion moved on, I came to think of the elephant and rider metaphor that comes from the Jonathan Haidt reading The Righteous Mind. This came to my mind as we discussed the abortion photos that had been posted all over campus for the past week. The week that these photos were being shown was Passover. Having “genocide” photos posted was very hurtful during the Jewish holiday of Passover. We all agreed that the pictures were very harmful to those students who very not Jewish, also. I related this to the elephant and the rider metaphor because it was clear to me that no one agreed with having these photos shown to try and persuade people to be against abortion. The presenters only showed upsetting pictures. They were attempting to speak to everyone’s emotions and bring them to the side of pro-life. Seeing people get very upset and angry with the presenters for telling them they were wrong if they believed abortion should be pro-choice made it very clear to me. They were failing to speak to anyone’s “elephant” (their intuition), which is the leader. They were only speaking to the “rider” on the elephant which is the rational and logical self, and were failing to do a good job at doing this. At this moment in our dinner, it became clear to me that the elephant and rider metaphor is very real.

I learned so much during my Kentucky Kitchen Table dinner. I first learned that though people come from different places and are different ages, they can still share very similar experiences. I also realized that our weekly class readings were more applicable to life that I thought. The readings must simply be looked at from a wider perspective to relate them to our own community. Shortly into our discussion, I realized the importance of acknowledging and not degrading the ideas of others. Lauren stated during our dinner that “you can be against someone, but it doesn’t entitle you to force your ideas upon them.” This was by far my favorite quote from our dinner. My dinner also greatly related to our class question of “How do we work well together?” Throughout our dinner, it became more and more clear to me that we were working so well together to discuss options for wicked problems. We were not struggling to discuss because everyone was open-minded and accepting. This proved to me that the central idea of working well together was being achieved during our dinner. Our dinner also related to the questions of “How do we help others have more control of their lives?” and “How do we have more control over our own lives?” Midway through our dinner, I began thinking about how to possibly relate the discussion to these two questions. It was obvious that we were answering them both, however. We discussed spreading and evoking compassion for one’s society to help others change their community to be better for them. We also discussed becoming more active in our own communities and doing our part in order to help ourselves have more control over what is going on in our lives.

Overall, the Kentucky Kitchen Table Dinner was a marvelous experience for me. I learned so much from the dinner and the people I attended it with. It was a great opportunity to meet new people in Bowling Green and have a civilized discussion with them. This project definitely felt more like a choice and less like homework. I enjoyed this project very much!Image-1.png

 

Kentucky Kitchen Table: A Night With Strangers

By Brady

My experience with trying to set up a Kentucky Kitchen Table was a little troublesome.  Every dinner that I planned with my family, with my friends, or with my church got cancelled.  Starting to freak out about the deadline fast approaching, my teacher came to my rescue after I explained the situation.  She set me up with a family that she knew, faculty from Western Kentucky University, however, I had no clue of who these people were, nor the students that would be joining me.  I had to make my introductions and rely on my personality, as well as everyone else’s personalities to help get me through this dinner.

My Kentucky Kitchen table took place in a lovely home in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  There were seven of us in total and every one of us had a different background than the rest.  The first person I met was the man of the house, David.  David teaches creative writing at WKU and he supposedly always keeps a pen and/or pencil on him at all times in case he has some kind of revelation or spark of creativeness that he must write down.  Next, I met the lady of the household, Molly.  Molly is a writer as well; she has written several books.  Molly and David had a couple of guests as well that stayed for the dinner, Samantha and Kaitlyn.  Kaitlyn is currently a junior in high school from Washington D.C.  Her mother is good friends with Molly and David, so they asked if Kaitlyn could stay a couple of hours so that she could bring some outside diversity to the table.  Kaitlyn is interested in attending WKU after she graduates and major in photojournalism.  Samantha is currently a high school student from Bowling Green.  She was described by Molly and David, “like our adopted daughter.” She plans on going to college in Washington D.C.  Next came in two honors students from WKU, Josie and Hunter.  Josie is currently a freshman at WKU all the way from Marietta, Georgia.  Josie is currently majoring in Communication Disorders.  Josie had just toured the campus on a whim with her father and fell in love with the campus, so that is where she stayed.  Josie brought in a huge arrangement of cookies that she made from scratch in her dorm.  Hunter is currently a junior at WKU and he currently lives off campus.  He is a Kentucky native, like me, from Harrodsburg and he is majoring in biochemistry.  He brought in several beverages such as sprite and sweet tea.

The dinner started off with an appetizer of cool ranch Dorito chips with spinach dip and salsa, however, everyone was so nervous because no one knew each other, that only Molly and myself ate the chips.  Starting out the conversation was very awkward.  We were sitting around the living room in a circle with hardly anyone speaking.  David knew this so he became the comedic relief.  As he made jokes and the group started to lighten up and finally began conversing.  We started out by talking about the community of WKU and how it has the reputation of being a party school.  Molly and David asked us our thoughts as honors students whether or not we saw the party life much or if we stayed away from the scene.  We all agreed that we ourselves never saw the party but we knew those who did. I told of how the tenth floor of my building was known to be the party floor.  The going joke for the rest of the night was “don’t go to the tenth floor!”  We asked Molly and David one of the Citizen and Self class questions of the class on “how do we make our community a better place in regards to the party life on campus?”  Their advice to us was to stay away from the party life and work to make studying a priority.  They said that the more of us who work to stay out of the party life and worked towards making a life for ourselves, the better the campus would be because of it.  No longer would people come because it is the number one party school in the state, but more would come for the academics.  This reminded me a lot of the Paying for the Party reading that we read in class.  That college is divided up into two different categories, those who are there to party and those who are there to study.  Most of the time these two kinds of people do not mix well together, and often time they to do not interact at all or the two groups go head to head a lot.  This makes sense as to why us being honors students, we had never seen the party life.  We continued to talk about how we might better the campus through getting involved in different clubs and student government.  Trying to be involved and taking an active role was a huge part of the evening.

Finally, after an hour of sitting around the coffee table, we moved on to the dinner table.  Molly and David had prepared two bean lasagnas as well as an arrangement of fruits and rice.  As we ate, I jokingly asked if it would be alright if I recorded the conversation of the dinner table.  That became another ongoing joke for the rest of the night and I was called the spy for the rest of the night as well.  For the next hour and a half as we ate we contemplated the required question, “What does citizenship mean to you?”  Molly and David’s answers were similar to their answers about the party life.  They continually talked about the importance of taking a part in your community.  Playing an active role in your community.  Going out and campaigning for the things that you’re passionate about and helping make the world, especially your community, a better place.  They talked about the importance of helping out those in need, helping out your neighbors, and getting to know your neighbors so that you can help ease their problems.  However, they also said that being an active citizen is different for everyone because not everyone has the time to do all these things.  They told us that the different ages have different parts to play in citizenship.  That the young have more time and energy on their hands and that they can still work and volunteer more, whereas the older generation have less time and more money so they can donate their money instead of their time.  But everyone needs to donate something.   And these things weren’t all you can do.  “Now, you’re recording this still right Brady?” David asked.  Molly and David were the living embodiment of everything they talked about.  They had campaigned, they had helped out their neighbors, and they gave money to charity whenever they did not have the time to volunteer themselves.

I learned a lot from this dinner as well as from the experience itself.  I learned how to interact outside of my comfort zone and learned how to interact with those whom I did not share the same opinions.  I learned how to effectively use the skills that Citizen and Self gave me to argue an opinion in a calm and effective manner. I learned how to interact with different conversational styles, including those very eager to share their thoughts and opinions. I learned how to see things in a new and exciting way.  I learned that I am not living up to my potential as a citizen, and that I need to be more involved in my community.

Our dinner may not have been incredibly insightful, but it definitely was one of the most interesting and one of the most diverse.  We had people from all over the east coast represented in our dinner group.  We had two from Indiana.  Three from Kentucky.  One from Washington D.C. moving to Kentucky.  And one moving to D.C.  All of us from different walks of life that found each other for this one night to discuss citizenship.  That is something special.  Each of us changed a little there that night I think and I am thankful that the rest of my Kentucky Kitchen Tables got cancelled, so that I could spend my Monday night with these wonderful people.  At the end of the dinner we had been there talking for over two and a half hours.  I went in dreading this experience of meeting these strangers, and I came out having a new and exciting outlook on citizenship.  Not many people can say that about their Kentucky Kitchen Table.  None of us wanted to leave that night, but alas all good things must come to an end.  Thank you, Molly and David, for having us that night, you truly made it a wonderful night and experience.  “Recording over.”

A table of unfamiliar faces

 

By Josie

A dreaded Monday. As usual I was expecting to run through the motions of my typical Monday routine. My exhilarating routine includes going to class, studying, and eating. Then I remembered my dinner plans with strangers. I was nervous about the dinner I had to attend later that night and I was also nervous to be riding there with a stranger. I did not recognize any of the names and I called my mom frantically asking what I should do. She calmed me down and gave me the recipe I needed for the cookies I needed to start preparing for the dinner. I started wishing I could have done this project back home in Marietta, Georgia instead of with six strangers, but I was already committed.

The first stranger I met was Hunter. I awkwardly waited outside of Minton for him to pick me up. I was not sure who I was looking for so whenever anybody drove by I tried to ask if their name was Hunter. Finally, Hunter leaned out of a car and asked me if my name was Josie. We quickly introduced ourselves and made our way to Molly and David’s house off of Hampton Drive in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Hunter and I arrived right on time and I was happy to be greeted by such friendly faces. David immediately came outside and greeted us with warm welcomes.

I placed my homemade cookies on the counter and then sat in the living area with everyone else. Molly introduced herself and offered us some corn salsa and guacamole. I will admit I was too nervous to eat any of the food. I was worried I would take a bite of food and that would be the immediate moment I was addressed and then there would be a dramatic pause. I am quite dramatic when I am brainstorming all the ways something could become embarrassing or stray from the intended path. I guess you could say I enjoy when things go smoothly and according to my intended plan. However, it looked delicious and I was hopeful dinner was going to look just as good. David and Molly introduced themselves more thoroughly once we all were gathered around the living room. David is a creative writing teacher here at Western Kentucky and Molly is an author. I observed David had a pen clipped on his shirt and later found out that this is because he want to have a pen on hand in case he ever had a brilliant idea or some sort of inspiration. Next, us honors 251 students introduced ourselves. I began and everyone was shocked to hear that I came to Western Kentucky all the way from Georgia. Hunter, who picked me up, introduced himself after. Hunter is from Harrodsburg and is a biochemistry major. Next, Brady introduced himself, I was happy to see a familiar face. Brady and I didn’t know each other but were familiar because we have English 200 together every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Brady is from Paducah, Kentucky and is majoring in entrepreneurship with a minor in theatre. The conversation was awkward at first but this sparked discussion about different landmarks and counties in Kentucky. I tried to follow, but I am no Kentucky native. We also had two other guests who were not Western Kentucky students. Samantha is a senior at Bowling Green High School and she will be attending American University in D.C next fall. Molly introduced her as her and David’s adopted daughter and constantly poked fun at her for going to Bowling Green High School saying it is a “snob school.” Also at the dinner table, we had Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn is a junior in high school thinking about attending Western Kentucky for photo journalism. She is from D.C, so a lot of the conversation revolved around things in D.C that Samantha should experience when she attends American. We also informed Kaitlyn about what Western Kentucky and the community of Bowling green has to offer. I am very passionate when it comes to advocating for people to step outside of their comfort zone and attend an out of state school. That was the best decision I ever made. I am also very passionate about this school because I truly believe it has so much to offer. Kaitlyn and I discussed the opportunities and I truly enjoyed our conversation. Our dinner table was diverse and it made for interesting conversation.

After introductions, the conversation settled down again. David joked around about Western Kentucky and the party scene. He asked us our thoughts and we shared funny stories of things we had seen. The more we talked, the more comfortable it became. After an hour or so we moved our discussion to the actual dinner table. Molly had set the table so beautifully and I was so excited to begin eating. Molly and David prepared a delicious bean lasagna, rice, fruit, and fried beans. We all sat down and passed the food as conversation began flowing. In between bites, Molly suggested we answer our specific question so we did not have to rush it later on. Hunter, Brady and I explained to everyone what our project is and we asked the question, “What does citizenship mean to you?” Molly immediately responded and said she believed it was actively playing a role in your community. She followed up with a story about how she once helped a family in the community with watching their children since the father was away for work and the mother needed assistance since she picked up two jobs. David piggybacked off that comment to say it is important to go out and campaign about things you feel passionate about in our country and the world. This reminded me of the Martha Nussbaum reading we read early in the semester (Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities) where she says that education should make us see ourselves as citizens of the world, not just Americans. It is important to choose what you feel passionately about and seek a way to help fix it, rather than simply complaining. By executing this concept, we can have a much more controlled say over our life. Being a citizen is advocating for what you think is best and taking action. They emphasized how being a citizen is different for people in different stages of their life. Molly and David said that the younger generations have more energy and should focus on the hands-on type of volunteering. Where the older generations have more hectic schedules and if they cannot provide their time volunteering, they should donate. However, these roles are not set in place. Wherever you are in your life, you should make a conscious effort to contribute to the community and advocate for things you feel passionate about. These are not the extent of what you can do to contribute, but they are the ones most of our conversation revolved around. With the presence of special guests, our conversations slowly veered away from the topic and onto other gossip and life discussions.

Although conversation about our required question did not last very long, I still learned a lot from this Kentucky Kitchen Table project. I entered this situation unsure about who I was about to sit down and eat dinner around table in a city I am still constantly learning new things about. I felt unsure about the entire idea. The kitchen table is a vulnerable, yet unifying place. It is a place where people come together, remove themselves from their electronic devices and take part in the present. What could I have to talk about with strangers? I expected to be out of my comfort zone for an hour, however, the power of the present took over and we were engaged in thoughtful and interesting conversation for over three hours. This project helped me remove myself from my comfort zone and engage in conversation with a diverse group and listen to their opinions on a multitude of different topics. I entered the situations nervous about how I would present myself, I did not want to be an impolite house guest. I am extremely self-conscious of proper etiquette and was worried I would embarrass myself, however, as the night continued I found myself more comfortable and my natural instincts kicked in. I became more confident with my natural instincts and was excited that my opportunity to branch out of my comfort zone went so smoothly. My dreaded Monday turned into a wonderful evening with delightful people and amazing food. Thank you, Molly and David, for inviting us into your home and being wonderful hosts.

 

Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Kaleb

On April 14th, I had my Kentucky Kitchen Table at a host table in Bowling Green. The host’s name was Lauren, and the three people at the dinner besides myself were Madison, Nicole, (and technically, Lauren’s two-year-old daughter, Tenley). The only person there I had ever met before was Madison, so the other three individuals were complete strangers to me. Lauren was from New York City and was a married mother of two who worked as a sociology professor at WKU. Nicole, Madison, and I were all three students at WKU. Nicole is a journalism major, Madison a nursing major, and I a CIT major, and all three of us were born in Kentucky. Our group was not exactly racially diverse, and three of us had been raised in similar places, but overall I think there were diverse things about us, we had all had differing experiences throughout our lives and, for the most part, each had a different take on the issues we planned to discuss.

I drove Nicole to the dinner, so on our way there we were discussing how we thought the dinner was going to go. Of course, given the fact that we were strangers were going to be eating dinner with even more strangers, we expected the worst. All the way to the moment we were about to open the door we both expected a very awkward and tense experience, so you can imagine our surprise when the door shot open to reveal Lauren holding Tenley with a huge grin on her face. She told us to make ourselves at home and that she herself was running behind from multiple things she had to do. We saw that Madison had already arrived and had already settled in, so overall, we felt a lot more at ease and ready to begin the discussion.

The first question we began to answer was the one pertaining do the thing we love most about living where we do, and for most of us that was considered Bowling Green. Personally, I still consider myself to live in Hopkinsville, but regardless, the three of us students had different reasons compared to Lauren. We all liked the towns we lived in because they felt like larger cities compared to our hometown. We felt like we were escaping the small-town life that Kentucky is usually stereotyped to have. Lauren, on the other hand, was from New York City so her experience was more of the exact opposite. She thought that living a slower and more simple life was ideal for having a family, even if the initial experience left her with total culture shock. Talking about Bowling Green lead Lauren to discuss her job as a professor and what that meant to her. Since she specializes in sociology, a study of society, she felt like she had an impact on the world and that her work served a greater purpose. She tried to understand societies in order to determine what it was that either helped or hurt peoples’ ability to come together. The rest of us either had no job or worked minimum wage jobs, so the greater importance sort of didn’t apply to us, but we did agree with Lauren’s point.

The next thing we began to discuss was the meaning of citizenship (beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws). Lauren’s answer to this was that the main role for any citizen was to show respect and compassion for others, something that really tied in with her profession. She also tied this into the fact that people when people have a disagreement, yelling biased opinions does nothing as a solution. People should learn to support their opinions and make decisions based on research and facts, not the influence of others. This point was generally agreed upon by the three of us, as compassion for your fellow citizens does seem like arguably the most integral part of being a citizen. The four of us then talked about the extremist views we had been exposed to in our lives and about the clear inequalities we witness in the world. For us that had lived only in Kentucky, we felt like we experienced a lot of radical or extremist views within our hometowns and even within our families, but as individuals who had tried to live beyond that bubble, we were able to rationally analyze and decide things for ourselves.

After this the conversation took a turn towards systematic oppression and highlighting the large inequalities that we can see within our society. We came to a consensus that for some people, opportunities to excel are harder to come by than for others, whether based on racial, gendered, class, or other grounds. With this in mind, we talked about how the idea of an “American Dream” based around a meritocracy doesn’t exactly seem to work. If some individuals start off with less of an opportunity that others, a system based solely on merit would be a broken system. Of course, it shouldn’t be made so that people who are able to excel on their own already should be punished, but that the starting line should be at the same spot for everybody. We talked about this issue from many different viewpoints and all of us had examples of times when we felt that maybe the system had left us at a disadvantaged spot. Overall, this conversation lasted the longest but served as probably the biggest window into how experiences differ.

When asked what social issue was closest to her heart, Lauren said that many were very prominent in her mind. Being involved in sociology, social issues are a main part of her work so choosing was extremely tough. But, she finally said that the most pressing issue for her currently was regarding the Fairness Ordinance in Bowling Green. The ordinance makes it so that people cannot be discriminated against in the workplace or when buying a home on the basis of gender identity or sexuality. As it stands in Bowling Green today, this ordinance has been shut down by the commissioners and doesn’t look like it will be implemented any time soon. This aggravated Lauren because she found it very inhumane to continuously allow discrimination to occur in modern society, especially in a situation where really nobody loses anything to have it overturned. For Nicole sexual abuse was a very concerning topic. She was very concerned with having people become educated to learn what the people around them were doing. Madison discussed sexism that still exists within not just everyday lives, but specifically in the workforce. She has had issues regarding sexism at her place of work, so she believes that addressing sexism would serve to benefit everyone. For me, I did not really comment on this question because I couldn’t exactly think of a social issue that sat closest to my heart than any other.

The main thing that I was able to tie back to the class was the importance of learning to talk to people in an effective way (or work well together), a key theme of being compassionate with others. Of course, this applies to the individualistic conversations people may have. When we talk to each other, it’s important to be respectful and listen attentively to what people have to say. These ideas are outlined in the “How We Talk Matters” reading by Keith Melville. The only way we can achieve a true conversation and exchange meaningful ideas is through deliberative speaking in which all everyone is on equal ground in importance. Even beyond individual cases, I think this idea sort of applies to how groups interact within society. In order to see true equality and change in the world, all people are going to have to approach issues with a clearer head and properly outline their positions rather than arguing nonsensically.

Overall, the dinner was actually a very enlightening experience. Of course, a dinner isn’t going to change my whole outlook on life, but I most certainly walked away with some new ideas in mind. The most prominent being that I as an individual cannot know everything about an area, despite knowing all the facts. This being because of peoples’ experiences that also help define the issue. As I listened to what Nicole, Madison, and Lauren had to say about the issues of compassion and inequality in our modern society, they fleshed out their opinion with more than facts, but also with experiences unique to them that helps them have a better grasp of the issue. This sort of made me think that the only way a person could ever really understand an issue completely, you’d have to analyze every single experience a person has had relating to that issue, basically an impossible task. Nobody can know everything, and we as individuals have to rely on each other to understand the world we live in. That is what I learned from this dinner.

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By Nicole

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place at a sociology professor’s home in the city of Bowling Green, Kentucky. There were four members at our dinner: the professor, Lauren, Madison, Kaleb, and myself. Lauren’s daughter was there eating with us as well, but she was two years old, so there were technically four people at our table. During our Kentucky Kitchen Table, we ate fruit salad and chicken salad in crescents. It was delicious. I am a picky eater, so I was unsure about whether or not I would like it, but it was really good. After we finished eating, we were hanging out at the table talking, and then Lauren’s daughter wanted to go outside so we moved our conversation to the outside furniture. Then, she wanted Lauren to watch her swing, so we moved to the swing-set and stood around and talked.

Lauren is married and has two children. She is from New York. For graduate school, she moved to Ohio to attend Bowling Green State University. She met her now-husband and started working as a professor at Western Kentucky University in Kentucky. During our Kentucky Kitchen Table discussion, she told us that she pays more for childcare than she does for her mortgage every month. One of the most important issues that she cares about the most is the Fairness Ordinance, which is the ordinance that supporters are trying to be passed by the City Commissioner’s Office in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Kaleb is a freshman who is from Somerset, Kentucky, which is only about an hour away from campus. He was more shy during my Kentucky Kitchen Table than the rest of us. He wears glasses, wore a t-shirt and shorts, and lives in Minton Hall on campus. He is technically a sophomore and he is majoring in computer information technology. During my Kentucky Kitchen Table discussion, I learned that his father is a high school teacher who once was laid off, and when his father was laid off, his family was on food stamps for a few months. I found that interesting because I did not expect to learn that he and his family had been on food stamps.

Madison is a freshman who is from a town close to Maysville, Kentucky. She lives on a farm. To the Kentucky Kitchen Table, she wore a dress and a pair of boots, which was a cute outfit in my opinion. She is a freshman this semester. She was pre-med, and then she switched to pre-nursing. She had blonde hair. When I first saw her, she looked like a popular sorority girl. However, I was surprised by how she was much more than just a popular sorority girl. She was kind and was happy to help Lauren with her two-year-old daughter, Tenley. She has a country accent and tattoos. One of her tattoos, which I thought was really interesting, was “Just Breathe” written on her wrist. That particular tattoo came from words that her mother told her when she would have an anxiety attack, which happened frequently when she first came to college. During the Kentucky Kitchen Table, I learned that her father is a high school teacher. He used to work with mechanics and then got a pacemaker. When he got a pacemaker, he was laid off and then her family was on food stamps for a short period of time. I was also surprised by learning this because I did not expect to learn that she and her family had been on food stamps.

We spoke about a wide range of topics during our Kentucky Kitchen Table. We spoke about how citizenship and being a good citizen in society is helping and caring about other people around you. It also means thinking and considering what other people are dealing with and going through when making decisions and living our lives. One example that Lauren brought up during our Kentucky Kitchen Table was the Fairness Ordinance, which is an ordinance that protects LGBTQIA+ people from being discriminated against based on their sexuality and gender identity. As she pushed her daughter on the swing outside and we stood around her, she said, “Obviously, I’m not gay, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be sympathetic to people who are gay and may identify as a different gender.” We discussed how citizenship means considering others around you instead of thinking only about yourself. We discussed how in America, we sometimes end up only thinking about ourselves and what we go through. I brought up how with the attempt of passing the American Health Care Act by the Republican party recently, the politicians are wealthy, white, and did not consider the ramifications that that healthcare legislation would have had on the impoverished communities in America who rely on Medicaid.

When we discussed listening to others and considering what others are going through, we discussed the factors that play into poverty, including institutionalized racism and job availability. We also talked about the difference between a personal problem and a public problem. For example, if one couple gets a divorce, people around that couple may think that that is simply a personal issue between that couple. However, if divorce rates have gone up in the community where that couple lives, then it becomes a public issue. Therefore, we talked about how we need to stop only thinking about ourselves and see the bigger picture. This discussion made me think about wicked problems and how there are a lot of different factors that go into solving wicked problems.

We talked about social issues that we are passionate about. One social issue that Kaleb talked about was Medicaid and food stamps. He talked about how he does not like that some people think that people who are enrolled in Medicaid or get food stamps are simply lazy and do not want to work in order to afford their own food and health care. That was when he told us about his father getting laid off and how his family was on food stamps for a certain period of time. I talked about how I was passionate about the issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault because I was sexually harassed by a coworker and I was extremely bothered by that incident. However, when I was harassed by him, I did not realize that it was sexual harassment because it was something that was extremely normalized in our society, which makes me feel sad about our society. Normalizing acts of harassment enables rape and harassment culture to continue, and that is something that I am passionate about ending. Madison talked about how she was in an abusive relationship and when she was in that relationship, she did not realize that it was abusive. She continued that relationship for a long time and then when she broke up with him, he called her over 40 times and left a bunch of voicemails where he threatened to kill himself because of her, which is one of many forms of emotional manipulation that he worked on her. Therefore, because of that situation, she is passionate about stopping abusive relationships and helping victims of abuse.

We also talked about the abortion-genocide pictures that were featured on campus in Centennial Mall recently. In general, the pictures were pictures of aborted babies and the displays compared them to pictures of genocide throughout history, such as genocide in Cambodia and the Holocaust during the 1940s. Lauren told us that those pictures have not changed since she was a student at college during the 80’s. I talked about how those pictures will not change anyone’s mind about the issue of abortion. Madison told us that she was pro-life because she came from a very small town where everyone was pro-life. I told her that I used to be pro-life until I took a step back and thought about the issue from the perspective of a woman who has had to get an abortion. We discussed how it is important for us to have a healthy debate about the issue of abortion, not compare it to genocide and make pro-choice supporters angry and not want to debate the issue. That topic that we were talking about made me think about the “Importance of Argument” reading that was in Week 1 of class. It is important for us to deliberate on topics instead of yelling at each other and not wanting to compromise on the issue. This could connect well with the “How We Talk Matters” reading, too. Deliberating is important in order to get things done in society.

Overall, I learned how although we all came from different backgrounds and had different views on things, we all still had similarities between us. I also learned how there are so many wicked problems in our world, including Medicaid, poverty, the minimum wage, and abortion. I could connect what I learned at the Kentucky Kitchen Table with the “Wicked Problems” reading because there is no right or wrong way to solve these problems. There are only better or worse ways to solve the problems. I appreciated the Kentucky Kitchen Table dinner because it helped me get different perspectives on the world around me.

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Talking Over Tacos: A Discussion on Citizenship and Social Justice

By Grace

On Tuesday, March 28, 2017 I completed my Kentucky Kitchen Table. At first, I was not sure what to expect from the dinner. I wondered what kind of diversity I would find at our table. However, I found that there was a diversity of thought that was compelling, and I appreciated those thoughts which were in contrast to my own that gave me a new perspective. I ended up leaving with a greater sense of the purpose for the role I may play in our community. Among some of the topics we’d touch on, from various forms of discrimination and racism to leaving home for the first time, I felt empathy and sympathy—both for the characters described in stories of hardship and for the people sitting around the table with me. More than that, I felt optimistic for the future of our community because of the honest candor with which the others sitting around the table would express sentiments similar and dissimilar to mine. If we can continue to connect with people in the community in this way, there is certainly a pathway for progress.

The dinner was hosted by Leah and Chris who prepared tacos and other Mexican-style dishes for dinner. The WKU students at the table were myself, Victoria, and Gage. Victoria is a Spanish and Asian Religions and Cultures double major. She is also a member of the Chinese Flagship Program and has an interest in learning more about diverse cultures and ideologies. Gage is a student at WKU studying Economics. Leah works for the Center for Citizenship and Social Justice (CCSJ) and is very passionate about social issues. Chris is contractor who works in Nashville. Also, attending the dinner were McKenna, who is a senior at Bowling Green High Schoo, her boyfriend Cole, and Riley and Katie who are in middle school.

We began by talking about what citizenship meant to us. McKenna views citizenship as having rights, which are earned by being an active member of the community. To her, being a citizen is to have a house and to be able to go to school and get an education. As we discussed our views on citizenship, I envisioned the “bridge” metaphor that we often discuss in class. McKenna seemed to be focused on the right side of the bridge, which is where we want to be as a society. In other words, McKenna was saying that ideally we want to be able to live well together and have equal rights to the resources that are essential to our survival—like shelter and education. However, that is not the reality. Leah, through her work at the CCSJ, has had the experience to know that there is still much inequality in our society, and there are many people who are given less resources. Those people must work harder to have the life many of us are freely born into. She’s realistic about the hardships that many in our community face; she said, “It’s because I know what exists.” Leah described a situation where a fireman in Bowling Green was asked to resign from his post for perceived gayness. She also went on to note an article which cites dozens of criminal acts against people of different sexualities. She said, “there’s an obvious problem if a citizen employee can’t go to work without being harassed and picked on.”

As far as how we as citizens and as a community must get across the metaphorical bridge to become a more equal society, Leah had many ideas. She said, “Citizenship to me is being active in the community in some way, shape or form. There are numerous avenues where you are able to do that…reaching out to legislators, going to marches and protests.” She noted, too, how lately she’s seen even more citizens being active in the community during this past election season. Optimistically, she said, “I’ve been amazed at people working at things if they don’t like it…participating, going to city commission meetings, writing letters to the editor.”

I had a different point of view. I had difficulty seeing how certain protests and marches would really enact change because to some extent I felt as though protests were only dividing our country further. I think about what the “other side” (the people of the opposing viewpoint) will do in response to protests, and I wonder if these protests are effective in getting them to have a new perspective. Just as Keith Melville describes in “How We Talk Matters,” people often dislike conflict and also are so self-ensured about their opinions that they are unwilling to listen to others’ experiences and even to correct, factual arguments. Unlike Leah, I did not see protesting in particular as a particularly productive way to make progress in society because I worried that protests discouraged conversations between one side and the other on political issues. However, through my conversation with Leah, I realized that while protests themselves may not seem like a potential platform for an effective deliberation, they are a way of starting those conversations and engaging the community in a healthy discussion. The protest is simply a  spark for many deliberations to come. It forces people who witness the protest to look at the issues and to talk about them.

During the dinner, we also discussed different social issues, specifically those that were the most meaningful to each of us. Chris said that when it comes to social issues, people tend to think of “hunger, African children, third-world countries, but there are areas of our countries that do have hunger.” Chris feels the social issues here more personally because of the experiences he has in his life.  This discussion reminded me of a point that Ivan Illich made in “To Hell with Good Intentions” where he discouraged missionary work abroad. Similarly, Illich says, “If you have any sense of responsibility at all, stay with your riots here at home.” Here, Illich alludes to the issues that come up when people try to do good abroad, and fail to do so often without even realizing it. It makes more sense to focus on the problems we are experiencing within our own communities, where we can communicate well with the people we are trying to help and we are more likely to understand the issues when we have experienced them or seen them happening in our own communities.

While for the most part, Katie and Riley were silent on certain topics, Katie spoke up when we began talking about the obligation we have to people in our community to give them more of a say over their lives, like we often discuss in class. The overall consensus was that we do have an obligation to the people in the community who are less privileged and who have been born into their disabling circumstances. Katie gave the example of homelessness, a situation where, she said, “It’s not their fault if they’re homeless. We have more opportunity—it’s the right thing to do.” Chris supported Katie’s view. In his experience, working in construction in Nashville, he sees many Hispanic workers struggle to get access to health care because they’re illegal immigrants and are afraid to even deal with the government at all. Like Katie, Chris also said, “If you’ve been born into circumstances, I’m inclined to have a lot of empathy for [you].” Throughout this discussion, there was a theme of empathy and a call to service. However, we did not discuss how Katie and Chris might act on such calls to service. From this conversation, I learned not only that I’m not alone in my feelings of empathy for the underprivileged but also that I’m not alone in my inability to take that next step to help those in need. I suppose all of us feel these calls to service at one point or another and yet are unsure how to act. I believe this is due to the great complexity of these “wicked problems,” which are so large in scope and difficult to tackle that even those with the best of intentions may not have the time to dedicate to finding solutions to those problems.

While I tend to be more cynical about the issues we are facing today in our communities and in our country, this dinner made me feel more optimistic because even by being there I felt like I was engaging with the community in a new way. To sit down and discuss social issues with complete strangers and to come out of it having learned many valuable ideas, I think it will not be too difficult to contribute to my community in the future. I often unconsciously brush off responsibility for these issues because they honestly seem too large for me to tackle. However, throughout the course of this semester by discussing these issues in class and during my Kentucky Kitchen Table, I realize that not only must I own my obligation to my community, but also that I am able to do something even if it is simply by starting the conversation with others in the community. As Melville says in “How We Talk Matters,” these conversations “in town halls, in classrooms, among neighbors, or exchanges that take place over dinner tables” are where democracy begins.

 

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