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UC Irvine says fried chicken and waffle dinner on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was insensitive

The meal was served on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the first day of UC Irvine's three-day symposium in honor of the civil rights leader. Student organizations complained that the menu was insensitive.

January 27, 2011|By Nate Jackson, Los Angeles Times

A last-minute decision to serve fried chicken and waffles at a campus dining hall in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. was a regrettable choice and lacked sensitivity, UC Irvine officials acknowledged Wednesday.


FOR THE RECORD:
MLK Day menu: In the Jan. 27 LATExtra section, an article on complaints about a UC Irvine dining hall's menu of fried chicken and waffles on Martin Luther King Day incorrectly referred to "the late Dick Gregory." Gregory, 78, remains active as a commentator and performer.

The meal was served at Pippin Commons on Jan. 17, the first day of UC Irvine's 28th annual Martin Luther King Jr. symposium. The theme of the three-day campus event was "Uniting Our Voice for Change." Past speakers have included Julian Bond, the late Dick Gregory and the late Yolanda King, the civil rights leader's daughter.

The menu and a sign in the dining hall reading "MLK Holiday Special: Chicken and Waffles" were pulled together at the last minute by a chef and other cafeteria staff members, said UC Irvine spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon.

The culinary choices were made without any university oversight, Lawhon said.

UC Irvine student Ricardo Sparks, the 20-year-old co-chairman of the university's Black Student Union, lodged a formal complaint with the administration.

Sparks said the decision's insensitivity has outraged the student union and other ethnic student organizations on campus.

"It's just another in a long line of small events on our campus that aren't meant to be taken in a certain way, but are at least questionable in their cultural legitimacy," said John Murillo III, director of communications for the Black Student Union.

That the incident occurred during the symposium was especially disappointing, Murillo said.

"It takes all the radicalism and activism that we tried to do with the symposium and then [the cafeteria] serves chicken and waffles and takes away from all the stuff that we did," Murillo said.

Officials at UC Irvine agreed Wednesday that serving chicken and waffles on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was not in "good taste."

Lawhon said the menu's intention was to offer comfort food for students in conjunction with the holiday.

"But it probably wasn't the most sensitive thing," she said.

Thomas Parham, vice chancellor of student affairs, tried unsuccessfully to schedule a meeting with Sparks and another student who had filed a complaint, Lawhon said. Sparks said he had waited to respond until he rallied other students to attend to meeting.

University officials said they are trying to set up a meeting with Sparks and other critics for next week.

The chef has not been disciplined, Lawhon said, and it was unclear if any action would be taken in the future.

Officials with Aramark Corp., which provides dining services for student housing, said they would conduct cultural sensitivity training for all managers and chefs.

Sparks and other students alleged that racially inappropriate incidents have been dealt with lightly in the past.

"I understand people have prejudice and ignorance," Sparks said. "But this is out in the community and nobody is saying anything about it."

nathan.jackson@latimes.com

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