Inclusion is a core pillar of Yale University’s dining program, and that means meeting the needs and preferences of students from 100 countries.
“We work really hard with the culinary team to make food that’s true to each country, and to create experiences—not just feed the students,” says Bob Sullivan, senior director of Yale Hospitality.
Yale’s mission was put to the test this year during the Muslim observation of Ramadan. This monthlong period of fasting, prayer, reflection and community, which falls at a different time on the Western calendar every year, ran from April 13-May 12, towards the end of spring semester.
Pandemic restrictions required that students eat at socially distanced tables in their residential dining rooms or take meals back to their suites. But that posed a problem during Ramadan, as meal service ended at 7:30 p.m.—too early for Muslim students to break their daylong fast. (During Ramadan, the last meal of the day is called Iftar, and the first meal eaten before sunup is Suhoor.)
Sullivan worked with Omer Bajwa, Yale’s director of Muslim Life, to get the names and residences of all the Muslim students and have the meals delivered to each building. “Students could either grab a bag and gather in small groups to share dinner in one of the suites or out on the patio,” says Sullivan. “We provided dinners for all 30 days, as well as a breakfast to have the next morning so they could eat before sunrise.”
At the beginning of the school year, Yale installed a microwave and refrigerator in each suite to make it easy to store and reheat grab-and-go meals. Some of the breakfasts included hot cereal that could be prepared in the microwave.
The rest of the year matters, too
In another example of inclusion at work, Yale Hospitality has made a commitment to source only halal meat—Australian grass-fed beef and lamb—and halal chicken. “Everybody gets the same piece of meat, so the Muslim students don’t bring attention to themselves by asking if it’s halal when they select their meal,” Sullivan says.
Students who eat halal also get the same menu as everyone else, sometimes with small tweaks. “If we find a dish is made with pork or alcohol, we change out the meat or eliminate the alcohol, but keep the integrity of the dish,” he says.
Pre-pandemic, Yale brought in chefs from around the world to work with the university’s chefs in creating authentic dishes.
“We’ve had chefs from Ethiopia, Italy, India and Mexico visit, and students can sign up to have dinner with them,” Sullivan says. “They present what is important to their cuisine and country and why a certain dish is prepared this way. The kids say, ‘This is exactly how my grandmother made it,’ and it’s very rewarding for the students and the chefs.”
This past year, some of the chef-to-student interaction was done via Zoom, but Sullivan is hopeful that the live presentations and dinners will resume in the fall. But Yale Hospitality’s efforts throughout the year, including the Ramadan meals, were very much appreciated by the students, he says.
“The pandemic was not good, but this experience was so positive,” Sullivan says. “We put a little something extra into the effort, and the kids will remember and pass it forward.”