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Frostburg State University Students Learn to Use Cooking to Manage Conflicts
05/03/2016

Frostburg State University Students Learn to Use Cooking to Manage Conflicts
At a recent campus-community event featuring food from Saudi Arabia, FSU student Waleed “Willy” Alsahli wears traditional Saudi clothing and discusses some of the food from his home country.

Two Frostburg State University classes found out that breaking bread is a useful tool to help bridge differences in the community.

Students in CMST 345 Conflict Management and LEAD 101 Introduction to Leadership spent the semester planning a campus-to-community dialogue to highlight a certain culture found on FSU’s campus and invite community members and other students in for a potluck dinner to talk about their heritage, how food connected to their heritage, conflicts they perceive on campus or within the community and how to resolve those differences.

The purpose was for students and community members to think about what they traditionally think of FSU and Frostburg’s heritage and what it actually looks like today.

“We know we have students, faculty, administrators and maybe even community members that we don’t know about in our region,” said Dr. Elesha Ruminski, associate professor of Communication Studies and the coordinator of the Leadership Studies program at FSU. “We want people to look around their own community and learn about these cultures they’re not as familiar with.”

The classes highlighted Saudi Arabia, thanks to having Saudi students in their course.

FSU student Waleed “Willy” Alsahli hails from the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and came to FSU specifically for the Leadership Studies program. He is majoring in communication studies.

“Since I came here, I didn’t know anything about America except for what’s in the news. And the news is not good,” Alsahli said. “Right now, I know I love America more than ever.”

Just like in the community event, called “Eat. Learn. Shift.” Alsahli gained a new understanding of what America is and the people who live here.

“The first thing in my mind was that Americans would say they hate my country or don’t like us,” he said. “But I was surprised that people here – they don’t care. They love anyone. I love them, and I love my friends.”

Alsahli took charge of the menu, getting recipes from his mother and obtaining key ingredients to give folks at the event a taste of the Middle East, featuring tabbouleh, kapsa with chicken, lamb meatballs, pita bread, bread pudding and baklava.

“I want to let them know my point of view of Saudi Arabia and how it’s a great country with great food,” said Alsahli, who wants to work for the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington, D.C., after he graduates.

Having a food-centric event was inspired by the Pittsburgh restaurant Conflict Kitchen. The take-out restaurant near the University of Pittsburgh researches cultures and the conflicts in specific countries and then, for a period of time, features food from that country and provides literature to spark a discussion about the culture they’re featuring. Conflict Kitchen currently serves Iranian food and in the past featured food and education from Afghanistan, Cuba, North Korea, Palestine and Venezuela.

FSU students traveled to Conflict Kitchen to hear directly from social practice artist Blaine Siegel, sample the fare to be inspired for what dishes they wanted to make and experience Pittsburgh’s culture to see what is traditionally thought about the city’s heritage and who lives there now.

“People think of the Eastern European ethnicities in Pittsburgh, and I’m from Pittsburgh and am Polish, for example,” Ruminksi said. “But there is a lot more going on.”

The heritage isn’t too dissimilar from Frostburg, and both cities have shown increased diversity with other cultures moving into different parts of town or on campuses within their borders.

Students in both classes talked with Siegel, who is also the education and outreach coordinator for Conflict Kitchen, to learn how to execute such an event. Siegel also served as the 2016 Leader-in-Residence at FSU, visiting campus to talk with Leadership Studies students and student organizations and to attend the invitation-only event.

“Food can be an incredible medium to get conversations going,” Siegel said. “My perspective on food is when you’re literally, physically taking something into your body, you’re creating a situation in which you’re more receptive. Not just the food, but the information.”

Frostburg restaurant Shift also assisted with the event to help provide local food direction, thanks to the help of co-owner and FSU alumna Jes Clay. The experience working with Middle Eastern recipes with a student from Saudi Arabia also helped inspire future menu items at Shift.

“We do try and highlight modern Appalachian cuisine just because of where we’re positioned, but I’m naturally inclined to Middle Eastern spices,” Clay said. “Now I want to make this fusion happen.”

Those in attendance agreed that more events like “Eat. Learn. Shift.” would help foster a better understanding between Frostburg residents and FSU students and suggested other programs and events to be held in the community and on campus.

FSU student Meron Kebede of Silver Spring got to share her family’s Ethiopian heritage while meeting people in the community at the event. The member of the African Student Association was impressed to see another side of Frostburg while tasting food that reminded her of home.

“Diversity exists in Frostburg,” Kebede said. “There are a lot of diverse people here.” To view a video about this project, visit https://youtu.be/hkNk1Mvx5DM.

The event was part of a multiyear Sustaining Campus and Community Dialogue Series supported by FSU, the Maryland Judiciary’s Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office and Mountainside Community Mediation Center, which supports town-gown partnerships and fosters a civil, non-violent culture in Frostburg. More information on the project can be found at www.frostburgdialogue.org. The experience was also funded in part by an Opportunity Grant from the FSU Foundation.

- by Charles Schelle

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For further information on this release, contact:

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Frostburg, MD  21532-2303

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