In one of the most culturally insensitive acts of all time, Randy Lowry, the president of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. invited African American students to dine at his home. Some of you are probably saying “That’s not culturally insensitive…” And the premise wasn’t, but the decorator and menu planner apparently missed the memo and the resultant backlash on social media has severely dented the school’s diversity reputation.
The entire incident was recorded and posted on Instagram by one of the attendees, nakaylayvonne:
So I attend Lipscomb university and as most of you know that is a predominately white school. Tonight AFRICAN AMERICAN students were invited to have dinner with the president of the school. As we arrived to the president's home and proceeded to go in we seen cotton as the center pieces. We also stood and ate dinner, there were no seats to sit in and it felt very uncomfortable. We were very offended, and also the meals that were provided resembled many "black meals" they had mac n cheese, collard greens, corn bread etc. The night before Latinos also had dinner at his house and they had tacos. They also DIDN'T have the center piece that we HAD tonight. A couple of minutes went by, the president was coming around and asking for our names and what our major was. He finally got to our table and my friend @kay_cyann asked why there was cotton on the table as the center piece. His response was that he didn't know, he seen it before we did, he kind of thought it was " fallish", THEN he said " it ISNT INHERENTLY BAD IF WERE ALL WEARING IT " then walked off. Later on all of us that were there were invited into the home, and we had the impression that we were coming to speak about how us as Black people feel about Lipscomb. The whole entire time we were in their home they only talked about themselves( how they met, got married and ended up at lipscomb) & the ONLY question that we were asked was our transformation coming to lipscomb. A couple of women answered the question but they sugar coated it. They said any other questions that we may have can be emailed to the advocate for the Latinos and that a second meeting may be held. Also we don't have an advocate on campus, the only African American advocate we had, no longer works here. The only advocate available to us is the advocate for the Latinos. They claim to have funding for minorities, BUT you have to live up to the expectations of a typical Black family to even get the 1000$.There is NO FUNDING for just us black students. #share
The student that posted this sounded more confused than targeted, but the underlying connotations could be a lot more serious, especially when you consider that Latino students were served tacos the night before this incident took place. What message was the university trying to convey? While selection of cuisine could have been an attempt to make the students feel more welcome, it also lends itself to stereotypical expectations of what a Latino or African American student ‘should’ be like.
In an email to all students, Lowry was quick to understand the gravity of what had occurred and issued a quick and seemingly heartfelt apology:
Last night we invited Lipscomb African American students to our home for dinner to discuss their experiences at Lipscomb. Several students shared with me their concern about the material used for centerpieces which contained stalks of cotton.
The content of the centerpieces was offensive, and I could have handled the situation with more sensitivity. I sincerely apologize for the discomfort, anger or disappointment we caused and solicit your forgiveness.
President Randy Lowry just sent the following email to the Lipscomb community:* * * *Last night we invited…
The comments on the university apology post are varied from total and complete support for the students or undying support for the university, including some middle-of-the-road comments from people trying to understand the entire situation and make a better future following this event. One of the most level-headed responses was from Shanna Ray:
Shanna Ray I’m shocked by the callous disregard for the perspectives of others that I see in many of these posts. Those of you who came here to mock and belittle our students should be ashamed of yourselves. These are valued members of our campus community and beloved children of God. They should be treated that way. President Lowry did the right thing by seeking to understand why he created offense and then working to address it.
Ray’s comment acknowledges the feelings of the students, while also commending the actions of Lowry in trying to understand the situation and continue to work toward better relations in the future.
While some in the media will undoubtedly blow this into a complete travesty one way or the other, we should maintain the middle-of-the-road attitude and seek to reconcile this with a better understanding of racial issues in the future.
I personally found the table decorations culturally offensive and inappropriate for the type of dinner, although in a different setting they would have been totally appropriate for fall. When coupled with the cuisine of collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and other typical African-American favorites, however, it can and did take on an offensive tone.
Maybe this incident will serve to open doors of diversity at Lipscomb, where the ratios of white students to Latinos and African-American students are definitely not equal by any stretch, but are in line with average universities across the nation.
Featured image from Instagram.