A Troy University student’s desire to change how the Muslim community is viewed turned into the coming-together of more than 100 students in the Trojan Center Ballrooms on Feb. 19 at what was called the “Melting Pot-Luck Dinner.”
Elise Robinson, a graduate student from Decatur, Alabama, said she was horrified by the lack of compassion pervading social media after President Trump’s executive order on Jan. 27 that temporarily banned travel from seven countries.
“For some reason, social media became a political forum that was miserable to be a part of,” she said. “I wanted to do something different, something that made people feel supported. I wanted to do something that put us face-to-face with these people, [something] that made us engage with them. So, I decided we would do something as simple as have dinner.”
After the encouragement of a friend, a resident assistant in Pace Hall who had been experiencing students’ unease, Robinson contacted Joe McCall, a history professor at TROY and the faculty adviser to the International Student Cultural Organization (ISCO).
“As soon as I read it, I mean it was right there,” McCall said. “So I contacted the ISCO kids at our next board meeting and decided that, yep, we wanted to sponsor this and we’ll just pull it together and see what we can do.”
In a letter to potential donors, the event’s stated goal was to reach out to the Muslim population, both at TROY and the surrounding community, for a time of fellowship and the breaking of bread.
“Our one and only desire,” the letter reads, “is to provide a meal and communion to our friends from the Middle East that are perhaps feeling great anxiety in this time.”
Two and a half weeks later, more than 100 participants filled the Ballroom and upstairs lobby.
“We weren’t sure if we were going to have five people show up or 500,” Shelby Wood, ISCO president and a senior social science education and Spanish double major from Wewahitchka, Florida, said.
See TrojanVision’s coverage of the event:
Robinson’s idea to celebrate the Muslim/Middle Eastern community with a simple dinner of soup and bread turned into a true pot-luck dinner of tables overflowing with fruits, vegetables, desserts and three different kinds of soup thanks to the work of ISCO members, donations faculty and staff and the International Affairs office.
“[ISCO] made this event happen,” she said. “They made sure this dream became a reality.”
Upon arrival, guests were instructed to write their name on a name tag, each with a number in the corner. Because the goal of the event was to encourage conversation and getting to know others, it was later revealed that the number indicated at which table to sit for the meal; the swapping of name tags to be able to sit with friends was discouraged.
The evening began with directions from McCall to imagine the room as a map of the world, followed by instructions for guests to first go where they were born, then to a continent they’d visited and finally to where they would want to live if money was not an issue and to tell the person next to them why.
After dinner, participants were instructed to write down two fears on a piece of paper, put them in the middle of the table and discuss them.
“I sat with people who shared fears about whether they’re going to be able to go back home ever, fears that they will be forced to go back home to very uncertain futures, people who shared how grateful they were that students and some faculty and staff came together just to say ‘We care about you,’” McCall said.
The floor was open to anyone who wished to speak, and students shared about how thankful they were for the evening and how they felt accepted and welcomed.
“[Tonight] meant a lot to me,” Asem Abdelfattah, a freshman business major from Alexandria, Egypt, said. “Just seeing how everybody here wants to make us feel welcome, and passionately, not just making it up. They invested their own time and donated money or food or time, so that made me, and I think I speak for all of the Muslim and Middle Eastern students, who this event was aimed to, feel more welcome. I think this event was a success.”
Other students expressed voices of support and encouragement.
“We want to make sure students feel comfortable here at TROY,” Olivia Melton, Student Government Association President, said. “We’re all here for you. [Just know that] you are welcomed and loved and we’re hoping to continue serving you.”
McCall said the event was not to make a political statement, but a human statement.
“To get people to show up and bring food to an event, not knowing what it’s really about, and to show up on a Sunday evening, I think it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “I felt a lot of love tonight. We can’t succumb to pessimism. We have to succumb to optimism.”
He said the most important part of the evening was something almost no one saw, but everyone heard: the squeals and laughter from the children in attendance playing together out in the lobby.
“We believe in a future, that’s why we’re here,” Dr. Hal Fulmer, associate provost and dean of undergraduate studies, said. “Not only are we here, but we have brought our children because we believe in their future. That’s what matters tonight.”