On the morning of Nov. 20, 2012, USC students and workers gathered on campus, took a deep breath and walked into the Parkside Restaurant—but not to have breakfast. Together, they demanded to speak to the manager and raised their voices in support of one of the most basic rights guaranteed in our society and on our campus: the right of free speech.
In the weeks preceding the free speech delegation, workers across USC’s campus had been informed for the first time of the existence of an “English-only” policy at USC. Workers began receiving verbal warnings for speaking Spanish in the workplace with other Spanish-speakers, which had never before presented a problem.
Long-time USC employees, particularly those who don’t speak English fluently, felt directly targeted and discriminated against, unable to interact with their co-workers on a daily basis. In other instances, workers were threatened or received disciplinary action for conversing with students for more than a minute at a time.
Workers did not stand passively by, but repeatedly requested over the course of over a month that their managers provide them with written copies of this unheard-of university policy. Managers assured workers that it was a long-standing policy and always found an excuse not to provide a copy. After Human Resources sent concerned workers back to the managers instead of providing helpful information, members of the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation (SCALE), other student allies and workers made the decision that they would not stand for such blatantly discriminatory and unjust practices in the workplace.
The goal of the delegation was to request a written copy of the “English-only” policy that was under enforcement in the dining halls and in other offices on campus. USC’s Human Resources office requested until the end of the business day to produce a copy of the policy.
To everyone’s astonishment, the dining hall managers called the workers into a meeting that afternoon—not to reprove them for the morning’s delegation, but to issue an apology: no “English-only” policy had ever existed. Human Resources confirmed the apology with an official statement.
It is worth noting that if such a policy had existed, it would have been in violation of the workers’ contracts, as well as state labor laws.
This affair was quickly hushed-up, because USC is understandably reluctant to publicize its own unjust, discriminatory and invented policy. However, we cannot ignore moments like these when students and workers stand together to remind our university, Los Angeles’ largest private employer, of its “commitment to respecting the rights and dignity of all persons,” as laid out in USC’s Code of Ethics. We are a university that prides itself on respect, diversity, and community, and those values should not—cannot—be left at the doors of our dining halls.