Oberlin Students Accuse the Cafeteria of Cultural Appropriation

Inauthentic General Tso's chicken is a hate crime.



What's eating students these days? Inauthentic sushi, it seems. Some offended diners at Oberlin College are accusing the dining halls of disrespecting Asian culture by preparing dishes so bad, they practically count as microaggressions.

As I wrote in a recent column for The Daily Beast:

It's one thing to quietly gripe about the quality of dorm food (students have likely been doing that for centuries). It's quite another to accuse the dining room staff of stealing from Asian culture because they didn't prepare the General Tso's chicken with the correct sauce. …

"It was ridiculous," student Diep Nguyen told The Oberlin Review (the "it," in question was a Banh Mi sandwich with the wrong bun). "How could they just throw out something completely different and label it as another country's traditional food?"

For one thing, the Banh Mi sandwich is itself the product of the blurring of cultural boundaries: French and Vietnamese.

For another, there's something deliciously ironic about Oberlin students—some of the most privileged people in the world, as evidenced by the $50,000 they pay annually in tuition—whining about the bun-thickness of meals prepared by lowly paid cafeteria workers. As academic and writer Fredrik de Boer noted on Twitter, "When you're defending the cultural authenticity of GENERAL TSO'S CHICKEN, you're a living Portlandia sketch."

But cultural appropriation in the cafeteria isn't the only thing on the minds of Oberln students. Activists recently released a lengthy list of demands—many of them reminiscent of the demands made by students at dozens of other universities. Perhaps most notable: Oberlin students want blacks-only safe spaces and allowance money for black student leaders.

I'm not convinced these things would make Oberlin a more racially-harmonious place, however:

If all of their demands were met, two things would happen. First, since most of the items require separate and distinct services for black students, there would be a lot less racial intermixing. Second, because the cost of hiring all these new employees and providing so many services is prohibitive, tuition would skyrocket. Oberlin would become much less affordable for the very students most dissatisfied with the college; it would also become weirdly segregated.

Read the full thing here.