By Stephen Gruber-Miller, The Iowa City Press Citizen
For University of Iowa students who stay on campus over Thanksgiving, it can be difficult to celebrate the holidays.
So, for the second time since 2013, UI held a Harvest Dinner open to students, faculty and staff at the Old Brick community center at 26 East Market St. The Center for Diversity and Enrichment, Provost’s Office and International Student and Scholar Services sponsored the event.
“Thanksgiving is a big holiday and I can come here to meet some people and also enjoy some delicious food. If not, I’d just stay home,” said Xuexin Song, who moved to Iowa City from China last year. She came to the meal with her husband, Shaojun Xing,who works in UI’s microbiology department, and their three kids: Angel, 6, Cindy, 2, and Andy, 5 months.
Over 60 volunteers — both students and faculty — volunteered to help serve food, decorate the space and greet guests.
For the Riggans, the meal became a chance to volunteer as a family. Carol Riggan came with her son Travis, a Kirkwood student, her husband Scott and her brother-in-law Todd. Carol works for UI insports medicine and Scott does facilities management, so they heard of the meal through a university email.
“I know Travis was coming home from college and I thought,well it’d be nice if we could go do something like that as a family,” Carol said.
“For me, this is pretty much the only time I get to spend this year with any family on Thanksgiving, because everyone is so busy,” Todd said.
To have the chance to help international students and families is even more meaningful for them, Carol said, because in the past her family has hosted international students from Ukraine and India.
Nadine Petty, the director of the Center for Diversity and Enrichment, said the meal was about building community and celebrating the holidays together.
“The catering service is closed down for the holidays, so if you’re not home ... you’re just kind of hanging out,” she said.
In all, about 230 people filled the space, bringing college friends, young children, grandparents and professors from different parts of the world together for a meal. “It really gives opportunities for students who normally wouldn’t interact with each other to interact with each other, and the same for faculty and staff,”Petty said. With families eating together and children running around the room, it was a festive atmosphere, said Chief Diversity Officer Georgina Dodge.
“To me, this is the sign of success, when you have kids running around the way they are ... they are running around, being goofy. It’s fabulous,” she said. For volunteers, the meal also became a chance tomeet new people and celebrate together.
“(I) thought it was a good opportunity to help the community and just be around other people for Thanksgiving,” said Camden Palmisano, a sophomore from California.
By calling the event a Harvest Dinner rather than a Thanksgiving meal, Petty said the organizers were attempting to be sensitive to UI’s Native American population.
“Harvest Dinner was a way to make sure that we were inclusive of everyone, so that we could still celebrate the holiday but be inclusive of our Native American population,” she said.
But for some who came, the meal was a chance to get to know American culture through the Thanksgiving experience. Fu Chen works in UI’s chemistry department and his mother, Erxiang Jiang, is visiting from China for a few months so he figured he’d welcome her, American style.
“It’s my first time to here, to this event, and my mom just came here, so I thought it would be a great experience for her. ... I’m not going to make a turkey for her myself,” he said.