UGSDW Unearths Evidence of Racial Discrimination at the Spencer Grill

Press Release

GRINNELL, IOWA — UGSDW on Monday published a report detailing discrimination against students of color and international students working at the Spencer Grill, a college-operated cafe on campus. Non-white student workers at the Spencer Grill are subject to discipline and termination at a disproportionately high rate, compared to their white peers. UGSDW is appalled by the report’s findings, and calls for Grinnell College to meet with us about the issue and to take immediate action on the discrimination that has been endemic to the Spencer Grill for at least a year.

Read the report »

Discipline at the Spencer Grill is administered through a three-strikes system instituted by the Assistant Director of Dining Services. Strikes, colloquially known as “cuts,” are mostly given for absenteeism or tardiness. Once a student worker receives three cuts, they are usually fired. Data provided to UGSDW by Grinnell College show that these work rules are enforced inconsistently for different racial groups.

Image of the Spencer Grill

Non-white student workers are more likely to receive cuts; the median domestic white student worker receives 0.6 cuts a semester, while the median student worker of color/international student worker receives 0.9 cuts a semester. For student workers who do receive a third cut, student workers of color/international student workers are more likely to be fired than their domestic white peers by 24 percentage points. Since January 2017, over 25% of African American student workers and nearly 20% of international student employees lost their jobs, compared with just 5% of domestic white employees. Although UGSDW does not have the relevant data before 2017, conversations with current and former employees suggest the pattern of racial disparity extends much further back, likely beginning when the Assistant Director of Dining Services who oversees the Spencer Grill assumed their current position in 2014.

The clear pattern of discriminatory practices unearthed by UGSDW’s discrimination study is utterly inconsistent with Grinnell’s nondiscrimination policy, and is an affront to Grinnell’s egalitarian values. Immediate and serious corrective action is warranted and necessary. UGSDW calls on the college administration to conduct a joint, multifaceted review of disciplinary policy at the Spencer Grill with UGSDW, including, but not limited to, implicit bias training, more consistent enforcement of the Grill’s discipline and attendance policies, frequent progress monitoring, joint reviews of all termination decisions moving forward, and potential personnel changes.

It is through robust UGSDW oversight that a study like this was possible. The data used in the report were provided to UGSDW in its position as the bargaining representative elected by Spencer Grill workers. Systematic problems likely racial inequity are not isolated, and can be tackled only through collective action, such as through a union. An expanded, campus-wide UGSDW would not only provide a pathway for fairer wages and workplace policies, but would also strengthen accountability and equity for students of color and international students, who are especially vulnerable to conscious or implicit discrimination in the workplace.

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