Washington Square News

President Hamilton Apologizes for ‘Insensitive’ Black History Month Meal in Downstein

Downstein Passport Dining Hall. Last month's insensitive Black History Month meal at Downstein as well as few other incidents have led to discussions over Aramark's future with NYU.

Downstein Passport Dining Hall. Last month's insensitive Black History Month meal at Downstein as well as few other incidents have led to discussions over Aramark's future with NYU.

Echo Chen

Echo Chen

Downstein Passport Dining Hall. Last month's insensitive Black History Month meal at Downstein as well as few other incidents have led to discussions over Aramark's future with NYU.

By Sayer Devlin, Managing Editor

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President Andrew Hamilton and Aramark both issued apologies for a Black History Month lunch  served in Weinstein Passport Dining on Tuesday that played into racist stereotypes of black people.

The meal included red Kool-Aid and watermelon-flavored water, as well as ribs and collard greens among other items.

Students criticized the meal for its insensitivity, and CAS sophomore Nia Harris directly emailed NYU Dining Services and several NYU deans.

WSN received statements from both Hamilton and CAS Dean Gene Jarrett regarding the incident, but Harris said she still has not received a response to her email at the time of publication.

“This school prides itself on being diverse and inclusive and global yet we have to deal with things like this that contradicts what the school is about,” Harris said in an interview with WSN.

The email Harris sent to NYU Dining Services and the deans of College of Arts and Science, Gallatin School of Individualized Study, Stern School of Business, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, Liberal Studies, School of Professional Studies, Tisch School of the Arts and Wagner School of Public Policy.

In response, Aramark — NYU’s food contractor — has suspended the director of Weinstein dining, will conduct an investigation into how the menu items were chosen and will mandate sensitivity training for staff, according to a statement sent to WSN from Hamilton.

“We were shocked to learn of the drink and food choices that our food service provider — Aramark — offered at the Weinstein dining hall as part of Black History Month,” Hamilton said in the apology.  “It was inexcusably insensitive. That error was compounded by the insensitivity of the replies made to a student who asked Aramark staff on site how the choices were made.”

Harris said she was shocked and appalled when she discovered what was on the menu. Puzzled by the situation, Harris enquired with the staff and was eventually put in touch with head cook. Harris said she was further dismayed by the response from Downstein’s staff.

“Obviously the negative racial connotations and history of Kool-Aid and watermelon is why I took it upon myself to write you today,” Harris wrote in an email sent to NYU Dining Services and several deans. “Not only was this racially insensitive, this was just ignorant. In 2018, there’s no excuse for intentional and deliberate disrespect. ”

The full text of President Hamilton’s apology

Harris posted a screenshot of her email on Facebook with a description of her reaction to finding the “Black History Month Meal” in Downstein. The post currently has almost 300 reactions, 92 shares and comments from numerous other students voicing similar outrage.

“I thank the students who responsibly brought their concerns with the Black History Month-related meal not only to my attention but also to the attention of key colleagues in senior leadership at the University,” Jarrett said in an email to WSN. “I am pleased to see that there has been a prompt effort to investigate the regrettable circumstances, but also to develop a long-term strategy to ensure that the insensitive offense does not happen again.”

This story will be updated as we receive more information.

Email Sayer Devlin at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Sayer Devlin, Managing Editor
Sayer Devlin is the Managing Editor for the Washington Square News. He’s an economics major in the College of Arts and Science. He was born in Tokyo, has lived in Paris, London and New York and when he’s not pretending to work, Sayer is spending too much time paying attention to sports, politics and Twitter.
Echo Chen, Multimedia Editor
Echo Chen is the Multimedia Editor at the Washington Square News. She is a freshman in Gallatin studying visual storytelling, sprung from her love of painting, photography, film and, above all else, people! She is a fierce defender of her home state New Jersey, a plant mom and a lover of coffee, sweetgreen and animated...

11 Responses to “President Hamilton Apologizes for ‘Insensitive’ Black History Month Meal in Downstein”

  1. MsToniB on February 21st, 2018 4:43 pm

    How can you just assume that these young people want to eat those items? Not everyone eat those items and besides I would have gave you the side eyes and asked who cooked it. I like a variety of things and everything is not always Watermelons and Kool-aide. Because I have seen other races buy up those things.

  2. Jane on February 21st, 2018 7:07 pm

    I am African -American and l love every food dish and beverage that was prepared and I would’ve have been offended and happily eaten it. If anything they were trying to please their diners, but didn’t realize their menu might offend some overly sensitive people who see racism where it doesn’t exist. No one should have been fired because no matter how good your intentions you will never be able to please everyone.

  3. Gene on February 21st, 2018 8:30 pm

    FYI t

  4. maya on February 21st, 2018 8:43 pm

    Im a mixed lady. And grow up with black and white. Mom and Dad. We did ont eat such foods and did not drink such beverage. To me it would have been offensive as well to have made such statements with such food choices.

  5. Joe Della Selva on February 22nd, 2018 12:23 pm

    I walked into this octagon thinking “Okay, what are we complaining about now?” I walk out agreeing with Nia Harris’ take on the issue. My impression is that it was more ignorance than a bullying intent by the person responsible for the day’s menu.

  6. J. V. Coffey on February 22nd, 2018 6:34 pm

    President Hamilton and Aramark:

    I understand her point, but she is wrong. In fact, as I noted on her FB page and posting on this:

    Then, you need to stay out of the South. Black or white, we eat and drink that menu every day of the year. As a matter of fact, every “soul food” restaurant you find down here will serve ribs, collards, and cornbread. Come on down to the South and say that to us. We’ll tell you to get over your little snowflake self and grab a plate.

    By the way, watermelon koolaid is all over the place down here. If we’re not drinking it straight up, we’re making pickles out of it.

    You have nothing to apologize for. It’s a standard menu at every “soul food” restaurant.

  7. Patty on February 23rd, 2018 9:30 am

    They were wrong. Watermelon (yuck) and “red” Kool-Aid was just stupid. No Black folks on the staff? How about next time we call it “Culture month”. Hear from the Black culture about food and drink. Take suggestions. Problem solved

  8. Anon on February 23rd, 2018 8:23 pm

    This is no more insensitive than the time they served pork during ramadan.

  9. Marie on February 24th, 2018 7:53 am

    The cooks who planned the meal are African-American. There have been 2 black cooks fired over this letter from Ms. Smith. She does not seem to be contributing to the African-American community, now that there are unemployed cooks, because they took the initiative and planned and cooked a meal that they were proud of. This was great food. Wish it would be served more often!

  10. Gemma midori on February 24th, 2018 11:16 am

    Have any of you read the article instead of directly passing go and starting in the old and tired ‘racist’ bull and ‘I’m offended’ crap?
    Two BLACK food workers planned the menu and because this little snooty twit complained, those same two BLACK workers were fired.

  11. Eric Stedfeld on February 25th, 2018 7:21 am

    This article by a James Beard award winning writer on soul food calls”red drink” (including kool aid) “Soul Food’s most iconic beverage” – his main concern seems to be the rise of its competitor, “purple drink”

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