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University apologises, fires catering staff over ‘insensitive’ Black History Month menu

watermelon menu canteen racist racism black history
The menu included many stereotypical foods including watermelon. Source: Shutterstock.

New York University (NYU) has fired their director of food and publicly apologised after students claimed the Black History Month-themed menu in their canteen was racially insensitive.

Students were outraged as they entered the canteen to see watermelon-flavoured water, red Kool-Aid, barbequed ribs, cornbread and collard greens among other food and drink items on the menu.

One student, Nia Harris, could not believe what was offered on the menu when she entered the  Weinstein Passport Dining Hall this week. In shock, Harris wrote to NYU’s President as well as the deans of the school detailing how she felt about the “stereotypical” and “racially insensitive meal”.

Afterwards, Harris took to Facebook to share her letter where it has – at the time of writing – over 1,400 reactions and nearly 500 shares.

“It is with great sadness and frustration that I even have to send this email,” the note began.

“Not only was this racially insensitive, this was just ignorant. In 2018, there’s no excuse for intentional and deliberate disrespect,” Harris wrote.

Many Facebook users agreed with Harris’ assertion that NYU should publicly apologise to its black students for the offensive menu.

In the email, Harris wrote if the school wish to “learn how to celebrate Black history and culture during this month, you can ask the black students […] instead of patronising us with Kool-Aid, watermelon, and ribs.”

NYU prides itself on diversity and inclusivity even dedicating a section on its website to the “Concrete Steps NYU is Taking on Inclusion and Diversity.”

In the section, the website states the university has always been dedicated to diversity, however, “we still struggle with it and, at times, fall short.”

President Andrew Hamilton and Dean Gene Jarrett both responded to the email in statements in which they apologised on behalf of NYU and the catering company, as well as announcing staffing changes as a result.

“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. It was inexcusably insensitive,” Hamilton wrote in his statement.

He detailed that the catering company has now suspended the director of Weinstein dining and is in the process of an investigation. Additionally, it is implementing sensitivity training for staff.

While Aramark issued an apology, its statement claimed the person in charge of the menu acted independently, going against the company’s “commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

NYU representative John Beckman told The Independent Aramark has fired all employees involved and asserted it was not NYU who decided the menu.

The catering company “determined the offerings without consultation with the University,” he said.

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