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New York University has issued a public apology and fired their director of food service after students pointed out the watermelon-flavoured water and collard greens the school was serving during Black History Month were racially insensitive.
College of Arts and Science sophomore Nia Harris noticed the offensive meal when she walked into Weinstein Passport Dining Hall - before alerting the deans of the school and NYU’s President Hamilton of the insensitive and “stereotypical” meal.
In her letter, which she also shared on Facebook, Harris wrote: “It is with great sadness and frustration that I even have to send this email.”
“Not only was this racially insensitive, this was just ignorant. In 2018, there’s no excuse for intentional and deliberate disrespect,” she continued.
Harris then requested the school make a public apology to its black students - and suggested if the school wants to “learn how to celebrate Black history and culture during this month, you can ask the black students at this school instead of patronising us with Kool Aid, watermelon, and ribs.”
Harris’s letter received over 800 reactions on Facebook and was shared close to 300 times - with many commenting that a public apology was in order.
NYU has a reputation for diversity and inclusivity, with the school’s website stating black students make up 4.8 per cent of the student body and 10.4 per cent of all faculty and staff.
The website also states, in a section titled: “Concrete Steps NYU is Taking on Inclusion and Diversity,” that from its founding NYC faculty, students, administrators, and staff has strived for inclusion but that “Over 180 years later, we still struggle with it and, at times, fall short.”
In response to Harris’s letter, President Hamilton and CAS Dean Gene Jarrett both issued statements apologising for the insensitive meal choice - and announcing the staffing changes that were made as a result.
President Hamilton wrote: “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.”
“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,” the NYU President stated on the school’s website.
And Aramark, while taking the blame for the incident, wrote that the individual in charge of the meal acted independently and counter to the vendor’s values, as well as to Aramark’s long-standing “commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
John Beckman, a representative for NYU told The Independent that Aramark has since fired the employees involved in the incident.
The school also reiterated that it was their “food service vendor, Aramark, not NYU, which determined the offerings without consultation with the University.”
The Independent has reached out to Nia Harris for comment.