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Serving Thanksgiving Dinner to Students is Faculty and Staff Tradition at A-State


JONESBORO -- Thanksgiving has been officially recognized nationally since President Abraham Lincoln heeded a public outcry in 1863 and proclaimed Thanksgiving Day to be observed the last Thursday of November.  

However, the associated historical traditions of family and friends meeting for a meal of thanksgiving are believed to date from a gathering between the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians in 1621, long before our country was established, according to History.com.

Arkansas State University has its own Thanksgiving tradition, dating back nearly 35 years.  Dining Services, operated by Sodexo, prepares a Thanksgiving meal in Acansa Dining Hall shortly before campus residents leave for the fall break.  To make the experience more memorable, faculty and administrators are invited each year to don an apron and help serve the students who attend.

In a letter to faculty and administrative staff this week, Chancellor Tim Hudson asked for volunteers to join him in serving students at this year’s buffet-style dinner, which will be Tuesday evening, Nov. 13.

“This is a chance to interact with students in an atmosphere other than your classroom or office; we know that the students enjoy seeing you in a different, more casual setting,” Dr. Hudson said in his invitation.  A total of 40 volunteers will serve during two shifts, beginning at 4:15 p.m.

Veteran faculty member Dr. Gil Fowler, professor of journalism and department chair, has never missed the campus Thanksgiving dinner since he joined the faculty in 1978.

“I always find it a pleasure to be able to reach out to students in a non-academic environment.  This is a time of sharing and caring for others.  Let’s let them know we do care about them and this is a caring community,” he explained.

Dr. Paul Mixon, associate professor of electrical engineering, sees the value in being of service to the diverse student body.  He recalled his experience last year when numerous international students were not familiar with some of the foods on the buffet.  He enjoyed helping introduce them to a traditional American Thanksgiving feast.

“I think that most of the students from India and Bangladesh had never seen ‘dressing’ or ‘stuffing’ before.  There were some Japanese students who had never had cranberry sauce but tried it and thoroughly enjoyed it!  It was truly a pleasure for me to explain what various items were and to try to coax students into giving them a try,” Mixon recalled.  “All things considered, it is a wonderful way to spend an evening serving others.”

Serving is special because it allows Niya Blair, assistant dean of students and director of the Multicultural Center, to say thanks to the students who help her enjoy what she does as a professional. 

“I’m thankful for the experiences the students have given me and what they teach me.  So, what better way to say thanks to students and to ASU than by literally serving the students?   They are the reason we do what we do each and every day to help make ASU the place where they learn and grow into the people they are meant to be,” Blair explained.

Dr. Shivan Haran, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, enjoys serving because of the experience of meeting and greeting students, including several of his own, and fellow faculty members. 

“I also meet several international students there and would like to show them we are all involved in this as one large family,” he continued.  “The best part of it is that I invariably get to sit with some of my students and we have dinner together at the end of my shift.  The camaraderie you see on this occasion is quite inspiring.”

Carving ham was the job of Dr. Erick Chang, assistant professor of management, at last year’s dinner.

“Wearing the hat, gloves and apron was a first for me. The last time that I did something similar was in the 1980s when I helped out during a busy holiday break at the restaurant my family owned in Guatemala.  This time, I guess I carved three trays full of ham, with lots of students making two or three trips, especially student-athletes from the football team and some international students.”

Dr. Lonnie Williams, associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs, said he enjoys any opportunity to show students that faculty, staff, and administrators are very approachable. 

“Serving gives us another way to be in their presence and show a different side.  Once a student feels comfortable around us, they are more apt to come to us with a problem, and our assistance may make the difference in their deciding to stay at ASU,” according to Williams.  “The more we can interact with students in their non-stressful moments, the better our chances are of retaining them.”

Clint Vogus, instructor in the College of Business, said serving the meal is a great way to give back to the students and to show that the faculty cares.

“I have served for several years and enjoy seeing all the students, especially the international students, have a real American Thanksgiving meal,” Vogus said. “It helps us bridge the cultural gaps and bring our ASU community closer together, if only for a meal of Thanksgiving.”

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