WSU president, company apologize for offensive menu board

Update @5:56 p.m. (Feb. 19):

Wright State University’s president and its dining services company apologized Thursday for a Black History Month menu that offended some WSU students and staff.

In an email to WSU, President David Hopkins recounted the university’s commitment to diversity and pride at hosting the Phoenix Project and forum featuring daughters of several civil rights leaders. Hopkins also pledged to dig into why a menu sign included chicken, mashed potatoes, collard greens and cornbread under a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. and other famous black figures.

“I apologize to anyone hurt by the display,” Hopkins wrote about the Wednesday night student union menu. “To our credit, the menu was quickly removed. But the larger question remains: Why was it done? I will find out. We will take steps to prevent this kind of behavior occurring in the future.”

Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services, which posted the menu, declined to answer several specific questions about the menu, but released a statement that read, in part:

“Chartwells celebrates many national events on campus and tries to provide authentic and traditional cuisine to reflect each theme. In no way was the promotion associated with Black History Month meant to be insensitive. We could have done a better job putting this in context of a cultural dining experience. We sincerely apologize.”

WSU officials said a dining room night manager contacted Chartwells to turn off all the menu screens from a remote location soon after word of it began circulating on social media. Seth Bauguess, head of communications at Wright State, said a 2014 alumna spotted the sign and tweeted it.

Bauguess said when he learned about the tweet, which was seen by another WSU employee, the university responded to the woman, who posted a photo of the menu @TheObviousTruth:

Social media response has been mixed with some people seeing no problems with the menu tie-in and others deeply offended.

Kimberly Barrett, Ph.D., vice president of multicultural affairs and community engagement, said, “I think many times, in attempts to be inclusive and to honor diversity, people who might be in the majority community or in communities other than the ethnic groups they’re trying to honor, sometimes get it wrong.

“Inclusion is an ongoing process where we have to continually re-evaluate and move forward. I was thrilled when they decided to remove the sign.”

The menu coincided with “Daughters Rising from the Dust: Children of ‘The Movement,’ Speak Out!” a panel discussion that included Ilyassah Al-Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz; Reena Evers, daughter of Medgar Evers; and Mary Liuzzo Lillieboe, daughter of Viola Liuzzo.

“I was really hurt (by the menu). Extremely hurt,” said Billy Barabino, a senior organizational leadership major from New Jersey and president of the Black Student Union.” For me, it was a knock in the face for African (and) African- American individuals who have fought for us to be progressive. I was extremely offended by it because it minimizes who we are as people.”

In November 2013, a classified advertisement ran in WSU’s student newspaper that sought to recruit students to “earn money” by selling a “rebel tabloid” that represents “straight whites” and was published by an Aryan separatist.

Student journalists with The Guardian newspaper defended the decision to accept the ad from the Nation of Aryans Against Commie Putrefaction, whose acronym is identical to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Bauguess said he believed The Guardian no longer accepts ads from the Aryan group.

In his email, Hopkins pointed to WSU’s Bolinga Black Cultural Resources Center, the Women’s Center, the Office of Latino Affairs, Rainbow Alliance and other initiatives: “We’ve come a long way because we are working diligently to create an inclusive campus environment in which all students, faculty and staff are respected and valued for the unique contributions they make to our university.”

First take:

A message board in the Wright State University student union, which displayed a menu for Black History Month that could be construed as derogatory, has students upset and wanting answers.

The menu, which was removed soon after word of it began circulating on social media, featured a picture of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with the headline “black history month” and listed the following items:

  • fried chicken 3.99
  • mashed potatoes 1.55
  • collard greens 1.55
  • cornbread 0.49

Seth Bauguess, head of communications at Wright State, said a 2014 alumna spotted the sign and Tweeted it.

Bauguess said when he learned about the Tweet, which was seen by another WSU employee, the university responded to the woman, who posted a photo of the menu @TheObviousTruth:

The university told her it had been taken down, he said, noting the response also read: “We will continue to look into the situation. Thank you and we’re so sorry for the offensive image.”

University dining services manages the board, but the menus are posted through an outside vendor, Bauguess said.

Dr. Kimberly Barrett, vice president of multicultural affairs and community engagement, said, “I think many times, in attempts to be inclusive and to honor diversity, people who might be in the majority community or in communities other than the ethnic groups they’re trying to honor, sometimes get it wrong.

“Inclusion is an ongoing process where we have to continually re-evaluate and move forward. I was thrilled when they decided to remove the sign. “

In the future, Barrett said, “I’m sure they will consult students who are part of the ethnic groups they are trying to honor before they put up a post of a sign.”

Billy Barabino, a senior organizational leadership major from New Jersey and president of the Black Student Union, is not happy about the incident — especially in light of the fact the university was hosting a presentation featuring the children and friends of some key figures from the civil rights movement.

“Daughters Rising from the Dust: Children of ‘The Movement,’ Speak Out!” was a panel discussion that included Ilyassah Al-Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz; Reena Evers, daughter of Medgar Evers; and Mary Liuzzo Lillieboe, daughter of Viola Liuzzo.

“I was really hurt. Extremely hurt,” Barabino said.” For me, it was a knock in the face for African -African American individuals who have fought for us to be progressive. I was extremely offended by it because it minimizes who we are as people.”

Barabino said he was embarrassed because of the presenters who were on campus for the Black History Month program.

“We definitely plan on taking action,” he said.

That entails discussions with university officials, the Black Student Union adviser and hearing from students, he said.