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‘Insensitive’ Black History Month Meal At NYU Sparks Outrage, Firing

Correction and updates: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the employees fired by Aramark were African American. While the NYU dining hall employees who served the meal were black, those employees were not fired over the incident. The food services company fired two different employees, which NYU Local has confirmed were in fact white and were responsible for planning the meal. This article has also been expanded to provide the complete statements from Hamilton and Aramark.

Two Aramark employees have been fired by the food service after preparing a meal at NYU during Black History Month that was deemed racially “insensitive.” Early reports suggested that the fired employees were African-American; however, on-campus publication NYU Local has confirmed that the two employees were in fact white.

According to CBS News, the two employees were fired as a result of a complaint by a sophomore, who says she confronted the head cook about the “racially insensitive” meal but was “lied to” and ultimately “ignored.” The meal, the student claimed in a Facebook post, consisted of barbecue ribs, collard greens, watermelon-flavored water, Kool-Aid, and mac and cheese.

“Sophomore Nia Harris, who is black, said the head cook dismissed her objections and told her black employees planned the menu,” reports CBS News. “She posted about the menu and her experience on Facebook, saying she ‘was lied to, placated, and ignored.'”

“This is what it’s like to be a black student at New York University,” Nia wrote in her Facebook post. “You go to a dining hall during February and you see ‘Black History Month Meal’ plastered outside the entrance. You walk inside the dining hall only to find ribs, collard greens, and mac and cheese.

“In 2018 I literally had to explain why displaying watermelon and koolaid in celebration of Black History Month was not only racially insensitive but just ignorant.”

Both Nia and The New York Times noted that the head cook told her black people planned the menu. “The head cook also told Ms. Harris that the employees who planned the menu were black,” reports the Times. “I talked to the head cook who told me ‘black people put this menu together’ and assured me that it was not racially insensitive,” Nia said.

However, NYU Local has since learned that the employees responsible for planning the meal — the head chef and an operations manager at the dining hall — were white. NYU Local reports that those two employees were fired “without conversation with NYU.”

In response to the public condemnation of the meal, Aramark issued a statement apologizing and announcing that they had fired the employees responsible for “independently” making the decision to put together the menu. Here’s the full statement:

We have zero tolerance for any employee who does not adhere to our values or contradicts our longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. Employees at NYU who acted independently and did not follow our approved plan for the celebration of Black History Month have been terminated and are no longer with the company. We are extremely disappointed by this regrettable situation and apologize to the entire NYU community and communities everywhere for their insensitive and offensive actions. We are re-training all our NYU campus employees to ensure an incident like this is not repeated.

The incident also prompted a public apology from NYU President Andrew Hamilton, who said the menu was “inexcusably insensitive.” Here is Hamilton’s full statement, which includes another statement from Aramark saying they had suspended the director of Weinstein dining for “insensitive and offensive actions”:

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. 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.

In response, Aramark has suspended the director of Weinstein dining, is investigating how this happened, will be putting in place sensitivity training for staff, and has rightly issued an apology:

“We apologize for an inexcusable menu mistake that occurred at Downstein. We are extremely disappointed by the insensitive and offensive actions taken by one of our employees who did not follow policy and processes. The individual acted independently in a way that runs counter to our values and compromised our longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. We have suspended the employee pending a full investigation. We are also re-training all employees to ensure a regrettable incident like this is not repeated. Again, we apologize for the mistake and commit to do better in the future.” — Victoria Pasquale, Regional Vice President, Aramark

We are grateful to the students who brought this to the attention of the University. We are extremely dissatisfied with Aramark’s actions in this instance. The drink and food choices for this meal were not discussed with NYU beforehand. NYU’s dining administrators will insist that Aramark put in place a mechanism to avoid a repeat of yesterday’s episode, such as consulting the existing student advisory body and campus cultural groups about the menu for special events.

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