A dinner – and a conversation

January 29, 2014

Allison Fischbach

Deborah Pembleton (left), assistant professor of global business leadership at CSB and SJU, and CSB student Gao Zong (Ashley) Yang share a moment at the Marnita's Table event Jan. 22 at CSB.

Editor's note: On Wednesday, Jan. 22, the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University welcomed Marnita Shroedl and her team to honor and discuss the efforts made by legendary civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. The event brought together approximately 70 faculty, students, staff and community members to discuss progress made at CSB and SJU in promoting a safe and welcoming environment for students of all cultures.

Marnita's Table was founded by Shroedl, a successful social entrepreneur from the Midwest. Raised by a multicultural foster family, Shroedl learned the importance of diversity early in her life. As a child living in a foster home setting, she vowed that when she had a roof over her head as an adult, she would always welcome everyone to her dinner table. Bringing this idea to life, Shroedl launched Marnita's Table in 2008 to encourage Intentional Social Interaction (ISI) around the dinner table to promote conversations that matter. Since 2008, Shroedl has traveled around the U.S., feeding over 18,000 people and inspiring many more with her over 300 focused conversations.

Allison Fischbach, a CSB first-year communication and psychology double-major from Rosemount, Minn., attended the event. Here are her reflections of it:

By Allison Fischbach '17

The Marnita's Table event reminded me of the power and strength of community living.  As we began chopping, slicing and blanching multiple ingredients in preparation for our delicious meal, the foundation of a great team was being built. Names were learned, stories were shared and relationships were made between students, faculty and staff at CSB and SJU in addition to the members of the Marnita's Table team.  Marnita kindly taught us how to use cooking utensils and ingredients, making each and every one of us feel as though we were a talented, indispensable chef in the group (even me, and I don't spend much time in a kitchen as a college student).

My favorite part of the night was the Intentional Social Interaction portion, where I spent time discussing cultural issues with other students from CSB and SJU. While I'll admit we didn't quite stick to the questions given to us from Marnita, the conversational topics were so raw and so honest, topics that have always been thought but never said were finally out in the open. There was a sense of trust and openness at the table that made each of us feel comfortable to share our past experiences and speak from the heart. We all agreed the biggest issue in our society today is "cultural fear," which we defined as the psychological fear of acknowledging, asking and accepting diversity in all its forms. We decided that as a community, the only way this fear can be overcome is to find the strength to ask. We can't be afraid to ask others about their background, and must be open to answering these questions from others.  We felt true cultural acceptance will come when, as a campus, we are able to have open and honest conversations like the one we experienced around Marnita's Table.

Marnita ended her fantastic dinner experience with a moving candlelight ceremony. Each dinner guest contributed one way in which they were going to share their Marnita's Table experience with others. One by one, comments were made and candles were lit until each of us stood, together lighting the room with our candles and air of positivity. Marnita then asked us to blow out our candles to represent the fact that each of us contributed to the light in the room. We left with not only a sense of community, but also with a sense of obligation to be the voice for change - to share the importance of cultural conversation.

The night began and ended with a meal.  It was simple, honest and eye-opening. Never before had I experienced an event that left me feeling so welcomed and important in a community. I left wanting nothing more than to share these feelings with others. I have no doubt that the community of CSB and SJU will be forever changed by the ideas presented at Marnita's Table.

The event was co-sponsored by the Student Development Office at CSB; the Intercultural Directions Council at CSB and SJU; Intercultural and International Student Services at CSB and SJU; and the Office of Experiential Learning and Community Engagement at CSB and SJU.