Columbia University Bans Workers From Speaking Spanish

Columbia University has a renowned department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures. It boasts a faculty of 36 professors and lecturers. In the last five years, they’ve produced 52 publications on topics ranging from the regional novel to medieval heresy. This year alone, they’ve offered 119 classes, where hundreds if not thousands of students speak Spanish (as well as other languages).

The Spanish language—written and spoken—is clearly prized by Columbia University.

Unless you’re a worker.

According to a petition being circulated by the Columbia Dining Workers and the Student Worker Solidarity group, the executive director of Columbia Dining, Vicki Dunn, has banned dining hall workers from speaking Spanish in the presence of students. The students don’t like it. She also banned the workers from eating in the presence of the students, forcing the workers to dine in a closet instead. (Mercifully that ruling was revoked.) And more generally she seems to take random student complaints as an opportunity to issue arbitrary and ever-changing edicts.

The two groups are circulating a petition with the following demands:

1. Columbia dining appears to have temporarily reversed the closet rule, but continue to discriminate against workers for speaking Spanish. This must cease immediately.

2. We as students demand that Columbia administration stop using individual student complaints to justify racist and degrading policies such as the prohibition of specific languages and the relegation of workers to cramped and unsanitary spaces.

“This shouldn’t be happening in student’s names, own your own decision, don’t try to pin this on students” – Anonymous Columbia Dining Worker

3. Workers ask that from now on, all new workplace policies be written down, publicly visible, and negotiated with their unions so as to prevent continued abuses.

Please read it and sign it.



  1. jhcordeiro April 24, 2015 at 3:53 pm | #

    WTF??? And what about ‘portuñol’? Is it ok? 😉

  2. Dave Madeloni April 24, 2015 at 4:22 pm | #

    Perdone, pero Vickie Dunn tiene que encontrar otro trabajo en algún lugar en donde nadie habla español. Como marte, tal vez?

  3. Margarita Vargas April 24, 2015 at 4:32 pm | #

    It’s time to fire Vicki Dunn, if she’s responsible for such abuse.

  4. Junius April 24, 2015 at 5:09 pm | #

    If you want NAFTA, if you want free trade, you also want racism and classism.

    “Free trade” is imperialism and “kicking away the ladder”. Free trade means movement of factors of the production.

    In the liberal order, the worker is a commodity.

    Multiculturalism is the newspeak word to describe the war to self-determination of people and real democracy. Divide et impera.

    • Corey Robin April 24, 2015 at 5:48 pm | #

      Junius, stay on track, please. I don’t know what any of these comments really have to do with the matter at hand.

      • Junius April 25, 2015 at 6:01 am | #

        I’m sorry, I also lacked of empathy. I have the TTIP agreement and its consequences in my mind.

        I tried to find the political and economical background that underpins to such chronicle, and why “neoliberalism” promotes multicultural society (ex, Hayek’s “Great Society” – Nieztschean economic – on the road of Coudenhove-Kalergi “pan-mondialism” – Nieztschean politic).

        I argue that racism is a form of classism: neoliberalism –> free trade –> Trojan horse to self-determination of nations –> unemployment –> polarization of wealth –> workers migration –> increasing of social tensions –> *racism* –> impossibility of class consciousness –> impossibility of political representation –> no Democracy and social exclusion.

        Too much elliptical and out of topic: it’s better that I come back to concentrate myself on the European disaster.

        • Ota April 25, 2015 at 4:42 pm | #

          Why do you ignore people’s practices to reduce such tensions? You theory-lovers just reinforce your ideal crap of essentialisist world in which you are always privileged.

  5. Neil Taylor April 24, 2015 at 6:38 pm | #

    Forcing employees not to speak their native language or punishing them for doing so is also evidence of employment discrimination. The EEOC issued interpretive guidance that suggests it will find a violation in those cases.

    • K Palmer April 25, 2015 at 1:29 pm | #

      Courts have already ruled on this. It is allowed to prohibit a foreign language at the workplace.

  6. Jill Holslin April 24, 2015 at 7:14 pm | #

    Columbia University should indeed publish their worker policies openly, but not only that. They should affirm and celebrate the variety of languages spoken in New York City. What is Vicki Dunn thinking?

    • Stephen Zielinski April 26, 2015 at 8:50 am | #

      Once, when taking a train from Brooklyn to Queens, I counted signs written in various languages. I identified between 40 to 50 distinct languages.

      NYC is a world city. The effort to stamp out the many cultures of the city is vicious and doomed in any case. The project only demeans everyone but those who support it.

  7. Jesus R. Velasco April 24, 2015 at 9:19 pm | #

    I am in favor of signing the petition. I also want the Columbia Dining Services to immediately release all the information regarding this rule, and, if it exists, immediately acknowledge that it is unjust and racist –and probably illegal.

    • Jesus R. Velasco April 24, 2015 at 9:32 pm | #

      Additionally, I have just emailed the director of Dining Services asking for further information.

  8. Jack Sobel April 24, 2015 at 11:02 pm | #

    36 professors took 5 years to produce 52 papers? That’s 3.46 professor years per paper.

  9. Josep Sec April 25, 2015 at 4:30 am | #

    Well, dont know exactly if this page is a particular, an organization or else, but my message is: spanish language dont exist. what is called spanish in American continent is in fact castillian language. Calling this language spanish (castillian) is as offensive as talking of belgian language, yugoslavian language, southafrican language, etc. For you to understand well, if castillian is spanish, then the language USA citizens n universities like Columbia wants to defend is british. This message is writen in british…agree?

    • A April 25, 2015 at 10:27 am | #

      English or the English language is from England. In America we speak English. British implies other kingdoms too. Go learn your geography, Sec. You need it.

    • Lucia April 25, 2015 at 10:57 am | #

      As a born and raised Latin American, who has worked in more than one Latin American country and who, obviously, has thousands of Latin American (and Spanish) friends… I can count with the fingers of one hand those that take offence with Castellano being called Spanish. sorry off topic, i know, but couldn’t resist

    • plasticmusic April 25, 2015 at 12:43 pm | #

      I live in Britain and the language in this looks like US English, not British. Evidenced by the grammar in your message, your understanding of English (written, at least) is realistically capable, but a bit flawed considering the off-topic serve you intend to force on this thread.

    • Rosa Ojeda Ayala April 25, 2015 at 9:24 pm | #

      Your observation is correct, but out of focus.

  10. Jim April 25, 2015 at 6:49 am | #

    The active voice is prized… unless you work at a school

  11. Joe S April 25, 2015 at 8:01 am | #

    If unilaterally implemented without bargaining probably a ULP for failure to bargain. Also probably grievable if contract allows for reasonable rules, as this is unreasonable both facially and as applied to these workers

  12. Warren Ingber April 25, 2015 at 9:21 am | #

    Maybe it’s time for Columbia to replace its motto — “In Thy light shall we see light” — with “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” This incident called to mind a 2010 ukase designed to shelter its innocent charges from another grim battery of off-color realities. See “Columbia students told job prospects harmed if they access WikiLeaks cables.” (

  13. paulgarver April 25, 2015 at 11:16 am | #

    If it is in fact true that a few students complained about workers speaking Spanish [This is more likely to have been a mere invention of a biased and arbitrary manager], then they would themselves be losers if this stupid rule were enforced. Monophonic anglophones in the USA would do well to attune their ears to the rhythms of spoken Spanish. Why go through life with an unnecessary handicap?

    • kym April 25, 2015 at 8:32 pm | #

      I’m sure many more students have complained about the exorbitant tuition costs. Has CU paid any attention to those students and lowered tuition?

    • Clem D November 15, 2015 at 7:25 pm | #

      It’s hardly a handicap.

  14. Roman A. Santillan April 25, 2015 at 12:49 pm | #

    Like in the segregation times of movie Giant in Texas in 1950’s

  15. Patrick April 25, 2015 at 1:04 pm | #

    I hope these workers are unionized and grieve the heck out of this.

  16. Dani April 25, 2015 at 2:37 pm | #

    Her actions are so unethical, unprofessional and plain racist. And to think I wanted to apply there! I would not have believed this if I hadn’t read it. I can’t believe things like this still happen, especially in UNIVERSITIES, where the education should be an integral, one that includes and promotes diversity! And this is coming from a Spanish speaking Venezuelan student of linguistics. I just signed the petition. And I’d sign again!

  17. Americo April 25, 2015 at 2:50 pm | #

    I didn’t realize that Columbia University had been turned into a pre-civil war southern plantation that required the help (slaves?) to eat in the closet. All these years of struggling for civil rights seem to have disappeared in the blink of an eye at the whim of middle manager, Vicki Dunn. Columbia University should immediately respond by removing Vicki Dunn and publicly apologizing, first to the workers, and then to the entire Latino community, because this is a slap in the face to all of us.

  18. Ben April 25, 2015 at 3:12 pm | #

    Changing the language but hopefully not the subject. ¡Que viva el español con toda su riqueza y sus matices!

  19. Columbia Student April 25, 2015 at 4:16 pm | #

    This obviously isn’t true everyone. I challenge you all to carefully read the petition and think before unilaterally supporting an uninformed perspective.

  20. Linda Stein April 25, 2015 at 4:56 pm | #

    I signed this petition tho I’m a 2006 GS grad, not a student. If true, Vicki Dunn’s policies are reprehensible and stupid too. I teach at Hunter, where any language is welcome. It’s Nueva York, Vicki–get with the program. And it IS castellaño, not Spanish BTW.

    • Ivone Santiago April 25, 2015 at 9:42 pm | #

      “Español” and “castellano” are synonyms, they refer to the same language,The term “Castilian” actually refers to the province of Castile in central Spain. It is said that the Spanish language in its most original form comes from there. In Spain, Castilian Spanish is called castellano, and the term is often used synonymously with “Spanish language”.

  21. Isabel April 25, 2015 at 5:39 pm | #

    Not a good idea to piss off the folks who prepare your food. I wouldn’t eat there anymore if I were you, if you know what I mean.

  22. Juan M April 25, 2015 at 7:34 pm | #

    Why was this originally put in place? Seems very wrong in a country that has no official language in place

  23. Ivone Santiago April 25, 2015 at 7:35 pm | #

    Vickie Dunn I teach Spanish please contact me as your problem is NOT speaking the language and not the other way around. Not very educated are you to be working at the University with NO language skills, are you?

  24. Patricio April 25, 2015 at 8:14 pm | #

    Memo to dining staff: For immediate implementation: Henceforth, while serving food or writing university menus and signboards, dining staff will refer to salsa as “tomato, onion, and coriander sauce,” a burrito as “bean-stuffed wheat flatbread,” a quesadilla as “flatbread with melted cheese,” chili as “Southwestern bean and meat stew,” and a taco as “meat wad in flatbread.” The committee is still considering the question of whether nachos will be referred as Ignatiuses, Ignatii, or simply Iggies. Furthermore, the use of the letter ñ is strictly prohibited in jalapeno. Doritos will remain Doritos, as they are not really Mexican. Thank you for your compliance.

  25. Maria merroth April 25, 2015 at 8:24 pm | #

    I am sorry COLOMBIA OHHH sorry COLUMBIA University the Spanish Is the second most spoken language in the world. English is in the 3er place

  26. Snarki, child of Loki April 25, 2015 at 8:28 pm | #

    I am highly offended that Vickie Dunn did not make her demands in Navaho.

  27. Junius April 26, 2015 at 8:51 am | #

    Ota, I have already apologized. I respect activism as I respect catholic missions in Africa as I respect physicians that treat symptoms of illness.
    It’s a form of politic, but non politic in itself.
    The health minister can treat more patients in a week that the best of all physicians in all its life.
    Racism, sexism and any form of social exclusion are – for a real democratic thought – cultural epiphenomenon instrumental in “horizontal social struggles”, in the logic of “divide et impera”.
    This kind of activism is not a solution if it is not accompanied by an logical and political framework in which placing this kind of revendication. Social progressivity is for definition social revendication, it’s bottom-up class struggle.
    The antithesis of racism is not the “cultural education” in itself, it’s public welfare state. It’s exercising political pressure to find a international agreement as proposed in Bretton Woods by Keynes and White.
    This world social disaster is only the evidence that there’s no progressivity: in a historicist view, this kind of activism is not expression of the “contradiction” in the neo-liberal counter-revolution thesys. That is “in front of your nose”, reminding Orwell.

  28. Will G-R April 28, 2015 at 3:01 pm | #

    The “no hables español” aspect of this situation makes for good ridicule, but in all seriousness, this is exactly the issue you previously raised here rearing its ugly head again. One important thing to note is that many of higher education’s net labor-hours in areas like food service and facilities have been outsourced to companies like Compass, Sodexo*, Aramark, and their associated staffing agencies, so many of the employees (up to and including the mid-level supervisors a level or two below people like Vicki Dunn) might not necessarily be working “for the university” in any but the most superficial sense. Since the treatment of menial workers people are decrying here would be utterly routine for this sort of company at any other client location they service, whether the client is a college or a tech company or an investment bank is completely immaterial: if a client has a complaint about a worker, the easiest way to deal with it is to overdiscipline the workers first and ask questions never. Like any other capitalist institution, colleges are willing participants in this relationship as long as it stays out of sight and out of mind.

    * per Columbia Dining: “Prior to joining Columbia, Vicki was the Senior Director of Marketing for Sodexho [sic] Campus Services”

  29. Javier Pérez-Zapatero April 29, 2015 at 6:27 pm | #

    Good Heavens!!!

    Some language instructors in the Spanish program assign projects in which students must interact with Spanish speaking workers in Columbia and New York City!!!

    Spanish is also the lingua franca used by our global community of students in all my courses.

    I wonder: according to this, are we giving our students the education they deserve at an Ivy League institution? Or should our students be confined to monolingual and monocultural competence?

  30. gstally May 3, 2015 at 9:20 pm | #

    Signed. This seems just as stupid as that attempted law banning “baggy pants” in Lafayette.

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