POLITICS

Columbia University accused of banning cafeteria workers from speaking Spanish

The Alma Mater statue on the Columbia University campus.

The Alma Mater statue on the Columbia University campus.  (2013 Getty Images)

A Columbia University student-led petition drive alleges that the Ivy League institution discourages workers in dining areas on campus from speaking Spanish in front of students.

The petition drive, organized by the campus activist group Student Worker Solidarity, says that the executive director of Columbia Dining Services mentioned the ban on Spanish speaking during an orientation session in 2013.

Columbia University officials say there is no institutional policy forbidding workers from speaking a particular language.

Without elaborating, officials say they are aware of one instance in which a student overheard a worker speaking to someone about a student and apparently found it offensive.

In response to a request for comment, Columbia University said in e-mail to Fox News Latino: “The University does not have a policy against employees speaking other languages.The issue in Columbia Dining appears to stem from an isolated incident in which an employee made a comment about an exchange with a student in another language."

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"The student understood the comment and submitted a complaint," said the statement, which was sent on behalf of the university by Victoria Benitez, Director of Communications Community and Civic Initiatives. "The department took prompt action to remedy the issue. The issue was not about speaking another language, but about the customer service exchange."

"Absent of any other information, this appears to be at the root of the issue. Columbia Dining has not received a grievance from the staff at the location. The department is conducting further investigation into the matter.”

Petition coordinators said that by Sunday, they had gathered more than 4,000 signatures.

Efforts to get a comment from them were unsuccessful.

The petition focused particular attention on workers of the Blue Java Coffee bar at the Butler Library. It says that Blue Java workers were told not to speak Spanish or to eat at the public tables during their break, and suggested they eat in the closet “where the trash was kept.”

The petition says that at some point, the rule to eat in the closet was rescinded.

SWS member Sasha Hill told the Columbia Spectator that her organization learned of the language rule from workers who confided in some members of SWS.

“They’re often told a student complained, and it really makes them feel like they aren’t doing their job well,” she said. “We wanted to get student support to show that most students don’t feel workers should be treated this way.”

“Even if the student complaints are real, it’s not a majority,” she said. “Workers have said they would like to see these complaints because they’ve heard vague reports and they don’t get to see the emails, so they have no way of knowing if these complaints are really happening.”

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