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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Alvaton, Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Annie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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we cleaned our plates at our table!

Hannah’s KKT

By Hannah

Late on a Thursday evening I headed to a dinner where I was to eat with two girls I had never met before.  Very nervously, and after 10 minutes spent trying to parallel park, I knocked on the front door of my host’s apartment, cupcakes in hand.  I was greeted with the smiling face of my host, McKenzie, and an adorable, chunky little dog who seemed more excited than either of us.  Walking in I noticed the many walls dedicated to Western pictures, paintings, and other memorabilia.  We heard a knock on the door and welcomed in our other dinner member, Sabrina, who is also a Citizen and Self student.

Our Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in Bowling Green, Kentucky and consisted of many helpings of mac and cheese and chicken nuggets as well as Oreo’s and cupcakes.  As the three of us all sat around talking on couches and bar stools we realized how far from strangers we actually were and it seemed as though we had a lot in common.

I quickly learned that McKenzie had been my sister’s RA for two years and it was funny to realize how connected we were.  She asked me all about how my sister was, how Auburn and vet school were going, and especially about how my sister’s new puppy, a golden retriever named Zuri (all of which she knew), was. McKenzie seemed to have been close to my sister as she was very excited in telling me that they were Facebook friends and knew all about my sister’s 10 week trip to South Africa.  After filling her in on my sister’s life I asked her a little bit about her own life here in Bowling Green.  She graduated from Western and is currently working further on her psychology major and communications minor in School Psychology and the EDS program.  She is from a rural area outside of Louisville but both of her parents attended Western which is where they met and fell in love.  Growing up Western was the only school she had really ever thought about going to and she still thinks it was the perfect decision. 

When asked how she described herself, McKenzie said that the one thing all of her friends described her as was an intense lover of senior dogs.  Her dog 10 year old dog Johnny Karate, yes named after Parks and Rec, was her newest addition to the family, being rescued from the shelter, and never left her side.  Her love for him was evident in the many chicken nuggets he was slipped throughout the night, and even though she said he did not get that special treatment often I had a feeling she was just hiding how spoiled he was, as shown by his very large belly.  She told us the story of how he was found in a Walmart parking lot so she felt that she had to make up for this by giving into him, saying that he won the arguments most of the time.

I learned that Sabrina also has a degree involving communications and the two talked about who their favorite professors were and McKenzie gave some insight on who Sabrina should try to take and who she should steer clear of.  I also learned that Sabrina came to Western not knowing anybody from her hometown of Nashville and, like me, had made a lot of friends here.

We all three talked about whether we enjoyed living here or not and all had different answers which I thought showed our different personalities. McKenzie said that while she loved living in Bowling Green and loved the people here she wants to move somewhere else after living in Kentucky for her entire 23 years of life. She noted that on her study abroad trip (which I will discuss later) she fell in love with the weather in England as it never got too hot and snowed just enough for you to say “wow this is pretty” and not “oh I hope I’m not snowed in for weeks.” Sabrina, being from Nashville, said that sometimes it gets a little boring, which I can agree to.  I personally love living in Bowling Green but I think I should attribute that to the fact that my parents are not here to tell me I can’t go out past midnight (sorry mom.)

As we ate our meal, we talked about how our semesters are going and our plans for the coming years.  We all seemed to have an interest in studying abroad and McKenzie told about her experience, as Sabrina and I were very intrigued. McKenzie studied in England at Harlaxton and told of all the fun adventures she took when she had time away from all of her school work.  She said it was one of the greatest experiences of her life. Sabrina shared her plans of studying in Norwich, England at East Anglia University in the Spring of 2018.  I too am interested in studying abroad and while I have not committed to a trip I am very interested in taking a weeklong trip to Bolivia where nursing students can help underprivileged people by setting up medical tents.

Once we were finished eating and we seemed to be running out of things to talk about, as strangers eventually do, and before things got too awkward, we got to the core question and the real reason we were there.  We asked McKenzie what citizenship meant to her, beyond things like voting, paying taxes, and following laws.  There was a long pause and we all chuckled a little as she said she needed some time to think of her answer.  After a few moments, she concluded that being a citizen means that we all help each other out.  She said “we are all here on this Earth together, we might as well make it easier for each other instead of getting so wrapped up and miserable in our own lives.”  Another thing she said that I really liked was that our goal as humans should be to make our little corner of the Earth a little brighter and that kindness is such a small thing but that we don’t have enough of it, meaning we just need to try and pick everyone up and make the world a happy place.  Sabrina and I both agreed and added a little bit to what we thought being a citizen meant.  Sabrina said that citizenship is about the community and working to live well with people around us, even if it gets hard sometimes.  I personally think that we all need to be kind to each other because as cliché as it sounds, we really do not know what is going on in other people’s lives.  After we all talked about what citizenship meant to us McKenzie jokingly asked Johnny what he thought it meant and I imagined his response to be something along the lines of “citizenship means kindness and kindness means you give me more nuggets.”

While our conversations never got super in depth on our values or our morals or anything of that nature I noticed how similar our lives were in many aspects and how easily it was for all three of us to share about ourselves. This dinner taught me that even though we may not all come from the same places, we are not all necessarily interested in all of the same things, and we are varying ages, there can still be thoughtful, pleasant, and insightful conversations.  I think that McKenzie was a wonderful example of being a good citizen by inviting two random college students into her home and helping them with a project, this is kindness on her part. On mine and Sabrina’s side, kindness came from the thoughtful desserts and help we gave each other.

This whole experience relates to the central question: “How do we live well together?”  We talked about how kindness would help us all live better together.  We were all very accepting of each other and respected what everyone had to say and this is yet another example of how we live better together.  This assignment reminded me of the reading that we had at the very beginning of the semester called “How We Talk Matters” by Keith Melville.  In the article, Melville discusses the effects of listening and not just talking.  To make the world a better place and to begin to live better together we need to thoughtfully listen to others instead of discarding opinions different than ours or discarding something someone says simply because they are different than us. In our conversation about what citizenship meant to us we built off of each others ideas in a very positive way and I think this should be something the world as a whole does more often to make everyone happier and live better together.

Going into this assignment I just wanted to get it over with because I am a somewhat shy person but McKenzie and Sabrina were very easy people to talk to and I think that we all had a very good time.   Overall I very much enjoyed this assignment and getting to meet new people and hear about their lives and talk about our differing opinions on certain things. 

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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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Potatoes, Dessert, and Community

By Elijah

For my Kentucky Kitchen Table, I decided to host mine in my hometown of London, Kentucky which is roughly two and one half hours east of WKU. Leading up to my Kentucky Kitchen Table, I was honestly a little bit nervous about the conversations that were to come. Generally as a rule, I have been taught not to bring up politics, religion, or any other sore subjects at the dinner table. The night of the meal however, I was going to do just that. I also didn’t want to ask anything that would make anybody uncomfortable. To my relief, everybody at my meal was really cool and very honest about each of the topics I brought up. It also helped that whenever there was a small lull in the conversation, one of my guests was ready to step in and get the discussion going again. Let’s meet this delightful cast of characters.

First, we had a woman named Juanita who went to high school with my mom. She used to be employed in social work, but now she taught social work classes at Eastern Kentucky University. Juanita has a Baptist background. With Juanita was her husband Bill. Bill was the lone atheist at the table and he worked as a security guard. Bill is always a fun guy to be around as he always makes conversation livelier. Sitting next to Juanita was a very good friend to my family and me. His name is Alex. Alex has a degree from the University of Kentucky in chemical engineering. This fall he will be going back to school to get his doctorate in chemical engineering. He’s a smart guy. Although growing up Baptist, Alex is very open to religious diversity having attended different denominational churches. In fact, while he was at UK, he attended a Methodist Bible study. To the left of Alex was me. I grew up Baptist but I also attended many different churches. I really try to promote an atmosphere of religious and all-round diversity and acceptance. I am a freshman at Western and I began my college career studying mechanical engineering. I recently changed my major to strategic marketing however, and will begin taking business classes next semester. Beyond that, I am a very creative person and I love writing music and performing on stage. To my left sat a couple that I respect quite a lot. Their names are Dan and Debbie Eubanks and they moved to Kentucky from Missouri about five years ago. Dan and Debbie came to London because Dan was employed at my Baptist home church as our discipleship pastor. Dan and I instantly became close friends because of our shared dry sense of humor. His wife Debbie is also very involved in the church and is a very kind-hearted person. Ever since I have known them, Dan and Debbie have been great role models for me in my walk with Christ. To Dan’s left sat my cousin Donavon. Donavon just graduated from Union College in Barbourville with a degree in history and political science. He was also there on a soccer scholarship. How cool! He actually just landed a position to work with a very prominent politician in the state. Donavon’s church is non-denomination and is inviting of people from all denominations. Finally, next to Donavon was his girlfriend Destiny. Destiny grew up Baptist, has a degree from the University of Kentucky, and now is in social work. In her job, she helps put troubled kids with a good influence that also has similar interests as they do.

We had some interesting diversity at our table which brought fresh perspectives. For example, Dan who is a pastor sat across from Bill who was an atheist. We had generational diversity as well. Juanita and Bill are in their forties; Dan and Debbie are in their fifties; Donavon, Destiny, and Alex are in their twenties; I was the youngest of the bunch at eighteen. We also had a mix of republicans and democrats.

At the beginning of the meal, after we made our plates of course, I got the conversation rolling with my first question. “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Because this was the first question and the guest were just beginning to get to know each other, it took a few minutes for the conversation to hit its stride. The table came to a consensus that it meant being a good person and having a positive influence on society.

Next I asked, “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?” Destiny said that this question was bringing out her inner social worker which resulted in laughter from around the table. She said through her work, she believes that a child coming from a home with a parent in prison for any amount of time has a major affect on them and that this is an issue not many people think about. Everyone at the table seemed to agree with her and we listened to her talk about working with children from this kind of background. During this particular conversation, I explained to everyone a concept I had been discussing in Citizen and Self called wicked problems. I told them the characteristics of wicked problems and gave a couple examples and said how the problem aforementioned by Destiny could be referred to as a wicked problem.

I noticed that after each question was answered, the conversation would come to a slight halt and people would wait for me to ask another question. I wanted the conversation to be natural so I told everybody to just talk about whatever they would like and I would occasionally ask another question. I wanted to be sneaky when bringing up the issues I wanted to discuss, so I slyly slid them into conversations. I overheard my mom talking to someone behind me. She was bragging on me which she like to do because let’s face it, I’m pretty cool. She was telling them about the part of the dinner I prepared which was the potatoes and the dessert (see a picture of the desserts below). I wasn’t the only person at the table at my table and I repeated it and effortlessly slid in my next question. I said, “Yeah, I made the potatoes, the dessert, and what kind of community do you want to live in?” Laughter ensued. After the laughing died down and several guest commended me for my efforts, Juanita answered the question and hit the nail right on the head. She said she would like to go back to a community where people would sit on their porches in the evening, you could leave your door unlocked, and people were friendlier. The table also agreed that we wished there could be more face-to face interaction rather than just texting and social media.

The conversation shifted for a few minutes to Donavon’s new job working for the prominent politician. After a few minutes, it was time to bring up my next topic. I waited for my chance and took it. “Hey, Donavon, now that your working for {prominent politician}, do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” Honestly unintentionally, this time my segway actually made sense. I added that this question was actually intended for everyone. Destiny said yes. She said that she believed she was helping troubled kids get help they needed which ultimately served a greater purpose. Juanita also said yes because she was helping educate a generation of young adults. Donavon also said yes as he was helping a young, honest politician rise up so they could help people all around the state. The consensus around the table was yes although because Dan is a pastor, we joked that Dan wasn’t serving any greater purpose.

The last question I asked was, “What advice would you to people running for office in our country?” Although we joked at first and said they should lie and do whatever it took to get to the top, we eventually came up with some good answers. Everyone gave a good answer to this question. We discussed Dan’s answer, which was the most specific, the most. He explained that they should abolish Amendment 16 which would get rid of federal tax. This led to a small political debate before I gave my answer. At the end of the political discussion, I said that the ultimate goal of a politician running for office or anyone for that matter should be to help as many people as possible.

In Citizen and Self, we have done a lot of discussion about how beneficial deliberation is. During my Kentucky Kitchen Table, I really got to see a real-life version of this. It was very nice to sit around a kitchen table, eat a home cooked meal, and civilly discuss issues important to everyone at the table. In class this semester, we had a reading called “How We Talk Matters”. In the reading, Keith Melville points out that listening and deliberating allows issues to be solved rationally. This really proved true during my dinner. Further, I learned that when you bring people of different backgrounds together to discuss issues, you get a wide variety of solutions as well as different perspectives on the problems. Originally, I was only hosting the dinner because it was for a class, but after doing it, I would love to do it again sometimes. In a digital world, it is so relieving to sit around a dinner table and just talk to people, especially when it’s over a good meal.

Kentucky Kitchen Table

by Reid

We had our Kentucky Kitchen Table in my hometown of Belfry, in Pike County, a solid five hours away from WKU. I must say I was very nervous about doing my KKT, not only because discussing things like politics often get heated in my family, but also because the prospect of doing it for an assignment gave a whole new depth to that nervousness. In the end, it all went very smoothly, and we actually had a really great time talking deeper than we usually do with each other, not to mention the amazing dinner we had.

Seated around the dinner table were my dad, Kevin, who took a break from his mountain of work (he’s an accountant, and it’s right near the end of tax season) to make sure he could come to take part in the conversation. My dad was raised in a fairly traditional household, though he said that he didn’t really appreciate the values he was taught until he was already an adult and out of the house. Like most people in Pike County, he describes himself as a conservative democrat, and used the KKT to connect more with my little brother and I (both fairly staunch liberals) and understand how our view different from his, and why.

My mom, Shelia, a dedicated kindergarten teacher who always makes sure her sons do their assignments was also at the table. She also had a very traditional upbringing, but always understood why she appreciated them. She is the reason my dad began going to church, and is also the reason that my brother and I continue to go to church, despite our questioning of religion. She has influenced us all, in so many ways, regarding our faith.

My little brother, Ryan, who is just forming his own set of political opinions and used the KKT as an opportunity to round out his beliefs. He has had a sort of 180 happen to him over the past year. Where he used to hold the traditional values our parents taught us, he now has begun feeling his own way around the world, and trying to establish his own beliefs. He describes it as finding his independence, and I personally agree, as that’s how I described the same thing that happened to me. Of all of us sitting at the table, Ryan and I are the only two who weren’t Christians, both of us being agnostic.

My grandmother, Sheb, who insisted on cooking the entire meal, not because she believes she is a great cook, or that she must control everything, but because she couldn’t stand having people over to her house (where we did the KKT) and asking them to bring food with them. Sheb is probably the only person at that table who had not much to say. She’s never been a very talkative one, and even when we tried to engage her to step into the conversation, she hesitated. She describes herself as comfortable with her political beliefs, and not really one to stir up controversy.   

My grandfather, Cecil, who has shared several different political persuasions over the past 75 years and also saw the KKT as an opportunity to reexplore and redefine his political stances. Cecil is very outspoken, and not always politically correct, which made for some interesting conversations, but would never wish harm on an insect, much less a person. He is the oldest of us all at the table, and is the only one who is retired. His experiences while working the twenty-odd jobs he’s had added a sense of experience to the conversation.

And finally, one of our neighbors from up the hollow, Tina, who I’d only talked to in passing and never had a full conversation with, came to dinner to establish a connection with us, and get to know her neighbors better. During the conversation I learned more about Tina faster than I believed possible. I learned that she has two children who are both grown and moved away from Kentucky, she describes herself as a conservative democrat, but asserts that she’d rather give up her right to vote than vote for either of the last two candidates, and that she has never really sat down to ponder what citizenship means to her. She was probably the most fun to talk with, just because there was so much to find out about her.

I started the conversation with the required question “ Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Surprisingly, Tina was the first to answer. She told a story about her great-grandparents coming to America from Ireland, and defined citizenship as “the right to do all things American.” It was sort of a strange phrase at first, but once I started thinking about it, I thought it was genius. That question didn’t gather many responses, and so we moved on. I don’t remember many of the questions we talked about, as I didn’t write them down, but I do remember the answers I got to the question “What is the thing you love most about living where you do?” Ryan said he loved the interconnectivity of the small town we live in, and how “everybody knows everybody”. Shelia said she loved the attitude that most people held, and how they were ready to help everyone in need. Cecil said he loved how safe he felt living in the area, and Tina loved just being able to have a yard behind her house and a garden. She struck me as a woman who enjoys the simple things. My father’s answer had the most impact on me. He said “The thing I love the most about living here, is that I’ve never felt like I don’t belong here. I’ve never felt out of place or out of touch.” He went on to describe how he couldn’t imagine himself living or raising his children anywhere else, despite the decline of the coal industry, and the poverty and drug abuse that has stricken our little town. That stuck with me, not only because it involved me, but because, for my entire life, I had felt the complete opposite way. I’ve always felt out of place in that town, and the career I’ve chosen is specifically designed to take me out of it. My dad, though he’s given me countless amounts of wisdom and advice over my eighteen years, opened my eyes with only a few sentences, and made me question basically my entire life.

This reminded me of the reading about the snare of preparation, and how by being prepared, you sort of end up falling into a trap of your own design. Everyone has a tendency to over-prepare and sometimes it comes back to bite you. I had been preparing my entire life to leave my little hometown, and in fact, that’s why I came to Bowling Green in the first place, but in doing so, I’d lost the little magic that my dad relished about this place. I briefly described the main point of the reading, and everyone around the table gave their own stories of a time they over-prepared for something and found out they screwed themselves over. Most of them were funny, but a few of them were sobering, and one, given by my sweet grandfather, Cecil, was almost tear-inducing.

All in all, this assignment made me open my eyes to the differences in my family, and the similarities I shared with a stranger. I have to admit, I was loathing this assignment in the weeks leading up to it, but now I can’t believe I had not done something like this sooner. I believe that experience relates to the class more than anything. Everything we do in Citizen and Self might not make sense at first, but once you complete the task in its entirety, then you grasp the full meaning of it.

Note: I took the picture of the dinner table, and therefore am not in it. I’m if that violates any rules of the assignment.PEXD0712[1]

Healthy Conversation

By Bethany

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place on a warm Sunday afternoon on the farm where I grew up in Hartford, KY. Participants included my two acquaintances Elizabeth, a marketing student, and Andrea, a psychology student. They brought along their two boyfriends, Hunter, a pre-med student, and Nathaniel, a participant of Chinese Flagship. My fiancé Seth, a paramedic, also attended. My parents, Karen and Brad, were the hosts. They are both members of the baby-boomer generation. My father is a manager at a local factory and my mother is a manager at a local restaurant. For everyone, it was our first home-cooked meal at a table in recent memory. This was also our first gathering together for the college students, and definitely our first time discussing topics outside of classes and our social lives.

We all shared a wonderful Italian dinner. My parents and I made the red sauce and noodles. Nathaniel and Andrea brought some delicious homemade brownies. Elizabeth and Hunter provided a wonderful white sauce. Seth brought us some zesty garlic bread to eat with our meal. My guests sat in the living room while my mother and I made final preparations for the meal. We set the table, got everyone their drinks, and soon after, we headed to the table.

To begin, we started off with some nice conversation about ourselves, our hometowns, and our aspirations. Elizabeth wishes to have a job in marketing with a business. Nathaniel also wishes to pursue a career in marketing, but is also fascinated by Chinese culture and language. He wishes to incorporate this passion into his career somehow. Andrea dreams going to a great graduate school and being a criminal psychologist. Hunter wants to go to medical school to be an anesthesiologist. Seth aspires to further his education and become a physician’s assistant. I would like to go to graduate school also. I want to get my masters of public health and make access to reproductive health services more accessible to members of my community. My parents, still young at heart, also have aspirations. My mother would love to publish a book, and my father dreams of gaining his pilot’s license.

I soon asked the first question: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Nathaniel spoke, saying that he feels that being a citizen includes having a positive influence on your community. He thinks that working to improve your community and helping others is a great way to do this. Everyone agreed on this. My parents added that citizenship means being a productive member of your community and working to improve yourself. To them, this meant having a job if you can work, helping your neighbors, and being a proactive member of the community. I questioned my table on what they thought we could do to be proactive within our communities. They answered that volunteering, participating in community events, building relationships, and attending community meetings regarding local legislation we all important to being a proactive citizen. We all also agreed that we could improve on doing these things.

My second question was: “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?” The table fell silent. It seemed as if everyone was kind of afraid to speak up. So I offered my answer: Healthcare. My fiancé, the paramedic elaborated a bit for me. He believes that everyone should have access to healthcare, but the issue with this that he sees in his profession is many people abuse resources like Medicaid. Hunter agreed with this, but pointed out that some people really do need those resources. We had found our first wicked problem. My father told us about what healthcare used to be like. Apparently, healthcare insurance did not exist before the 1980’s. He described how his father and mother would just write checks directly to doctors to pay for broken arms and doctor’s visits. Andrea asked how people could afford to do this. My father explained that healthcare was somewhat affordable before insurance companies came into the picture. It was after insurance companies that the price of healthcare skyrocketed to the prices of today. Elizabeth pointed out that everyone might not have been able to afford healthcare, even before insurance companies, which brought back the question of how can we make healthcare more accessible to other people.

I spoke and said if healthcare providers could come together to open clinics for people that operate outside of big insurance companies, perhaps then we could make healthcare more accessible. I told them my personal dream of opening a clinic for women and expectant mothers who otherwise couldn’t afford the care that my practitioners would provide. I hoped to set up affordable prices for services and exams, and to offer payment plans for patients without insurance. I also would enjoy to set up a network of practitioners, community members, and physicians who would like to see this positive change within the community. We agreed that coming together as a community would be helpful, but it isn’t necessarily realistic to always count on finding common ground.

My next question proved the most difficult to answer: “What do you think are the best things about our world today?” I immediately saw everyone making awkward eye contact and chuckle, as this was the weekend following airstrikes on Syria. The news lately was, for lack of better word, depressing. I acknowledged the tension, saying that yes, sometimes being positive was difficult, but everyone should always try to look on the brighter side of things. Nathaniel then spoke. He said that he felt everyone, in their own way and through their own opinions, genuinely did have the best intentions at heart. Everyone seems to care and want the best thing for others, even if we don’t all agree on what the best thing is. Seth said that this was especially true of our generation. He thinks that all of us want to improve our community in one way or another. My mother said that she enjoyed the resilience that people in our age tend to have to adversity. People today do not simply let others put them down. They fight back and try to promote positive change and they have hope for the future, despite everything. Perhaps things today are not as bleak as they seem.

To top off our dinner, I asked our final question, one that I felt would be pretty easy to answer: “What advice would you give people running for office in our country?” Elizabeth spoke immediately, saying that she thought that they should try to communicate clearly and honestly with citizens. They shouldn’t lie to us and give us false expectations just to get elected. Hunter agreed with this, and said that we need people in office who really represent us. We should shy away from career politicians and try to elect more business people, educators, and more citizens from diverse populations. We all agreed on this point.

I was pretty nervous about hosting this dinner. I have never done anything like this and this was my first time having this large group together. I was worried about a fight or someone possibly getting their feelings hurt. I was genuinely surprised with how well everyone got along. With my parents being baby boomers, and us being a part of generation x, I was worried about clashing opinions. But generally, we all had the same ideals and intentions, but different perspectives, which is a good thing. The topics discussed reminded me of the three questions we discuss in class. How can we live better together was encompassed in our discussion about citizenship. How can we take more control of our lives and help others do the same was related to our discussion about electing officials. How do we solve problems was a theme in our healthcare discussion. “How We Talk Matters” was truly relevant to this assignment. This passage highlights that deliberation is a skill that we must hone. Calm, respectful communication was key at the Kentucky Kitchen Table and is vital for understanding one another.

I am thankful for this assignment, as it opened my eyes to the opinions of others. I also helped me to not be afraid to speak my mind and express my feelings. It allowed me to better understand my parents and a few of my peers. These topics are ones we rarely speak of at home. This allowed me to get to know my parents better and to understand their thinking better. I won’t be as nervous to talk about issues with them because, as it turns out, we are not as different as I thought. I am also thankful for the connections with my peers, because without communication, we will never be able to make our future as great as we have the potential to.