For the past 15 years, Spartans on campus have had the opportunity to gather on Thanksgiving Day and enjoy a warm meal among company. It all started in 2003 when Felipe Lopez, then an out-of-state student, invited others to join him for dinner in the East Akers lounge. Several students pitched in to purchase food and 20-30 people from domestic and international areas shared pizza and bonded.
Juan Flores-Soto, one of the students attending, collaborated with Felipe to carry the concept forward. They were inspired by the opportunity to connect Spartans who might otherwise be alone during the holiday break.
Currently a coordinator for the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions (OCAT), Juan shared that throughout the years campus partners have helped sustain the event. “I am extremely grateful for the support from RHS and other campus departments,” he expressed.
When he accepted his current role with the department in 2010, Juan was able to help make the Unity Dinner an office initiative that will continue beyond his time at the university.
Thousands of students have benefitted from the tradition that began in Akers Hall, with 488 signing in on site this year, including 52 volunteers. In addition to RHS, 17 local sponsors collaborated with OCAT to offer food, games and other activities.
On the menu this year, among other delicious fare, was turkey, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, green beans, stuffing, pie and custom-image cookies from MSU Bakers. Attendees could show their creative side by decorating the tablecloths with colorful markers and more.
“This event provides a community-building experience for all who attend,” Juan explained. “We talk about the history of Thanksgiving, why we celebrate, how we celebrate it and why we eat turkey.”
Beyond the educational component, an important goal of the gathering is to celebrate diversity at MSU, honor different cultures and support students from various racial, ethnic, international and domestic backgrounds. From OCAT team members, to sponsors, to volunteers, strong partnerships built over the past 15 years will help this tradition continue to thrive.
Photo courtesy of MSUBA Lansing Chapter.