Dear MHC Community:
I am Patrice Crevier, the former manager of the Rao’s cafe in the Williston Library at MHC. I fully support every person’s right to peaceful freedom of individuality, in whatever context that may be, but I also expect that, in any situation, presentations be true.
An incident did occur between myself and a staff member. Statements/innuendo, from certain staff members and through a campus-wide email, sent by the Director of the Williston Library, has resulted and I had not commented. However, when I first read, months after it was published, the Letter to the Editor, written by 3 students/Rao’s staff members, who libelously called me racist, I knew I could be silent no longer.
Fortunately, people who know me, including staff members, know it to be a fact that I am not racist, and I am grateful to the individuals who, in support of me, commented on the letter.
Perhaps it will be irrelevant to some readers, but I hope you read the following details and base your conclusion on the fuller picture, rather than on what has been irresponsibly said or insinuated.
As it is almost guaranteed all will be on campus for Convocation, I planned to have a meeting afterwards. I was asked to reconsider. I did. Scheduling a staff meeting is difficult but Convocation is important to most students, so I decided to accommodate this request and present a meeting via email.
On August 21st, I emailed the meeting which included new and old information. Due to past instances I very clearly listed what was not acceptable in dress code and music played in the cafe open to the public; very specifically the “N” word. Instruction was given to make playlists or stream from safe sources.
Though the “N” word, with different endings, including -ER, is sometimes used as a term of endearment, it was not allowed.
Staff were also instructed to read as many times as needed to fully understand and to respond with “Got it” or ask for clarification. Also that their response would act as a binding signature. The staff member with whom I had the incident responded back, “Got it,” within 10 minutes.
Fast forward to Sept. 6, a slow afternoon. I was hanging signs and the staff member was steaming a drink, I thought for themself because I was unaware a customer was behind me. The steam wand was loud, but I heard the “N” word and I shouted to the staff member, “Do you know the lyrics in your music?” They responded, “I can’t hear.” Assuming they meant they could not hear me, I shouted, slowly so they could read my lips, “They just said N*****” They responded with either, “You can’t say that word because you’re white,” or, “You’re not black.” I do not remember which. Yelling ensued until I saw the customer and felt I had to leave the cafe, re-entering after they left. The staff member said they “could not work for someone who would say that word.” I said, “So I guess you’ve got to go!” Another staff member came in and the upset member said, “Patrice just fired me,” as they left. I said, “I am pretty sure they just quit.” I then recounted what happened.
The next morning, I went to tell the owner of Rao’s what happened and then had a meeting with the Executive Director of LITS and the MHC Chief Diversity Officer. They said my and the staff member’s stories were essentially the same. I said I hoped to speak with anyone, especially the customer, who was affected by this to apologize and explain the situation. They suggested bias training, and I said yes because I thought it would teach me how to better handle frustrating situations when dealing with a student staff member. I did not understand they were talking about racial bias. They asked me to stay off campus, “for my own safety” while they looked into the situation.
I went to work at the coffee roasting plant, continuing to order and shop for supplies for the cafe which were brought in by a Rao’s salesperson. The staff worked extra hard covering shifts. As per usual, the beginning of a semester had an ever changing schedule until after add/drop.
On Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, I attended a meeting “mediated” by the Chief Diversity Officer. I wrongly thought it was an opportunity to explain, discuss, understand and heal. Five or six Rao’s student staff members were present and the actual incident was discussed only briefly. Some had grievances, but each time I tried to explain why I did certain things, the mediator shut me down. The general thread was that they felt I did not listen to their ideas.
I finally did get to say, “I will attend any suggested trainings, but as long as the cafe was a business run by a manager making decisions and not students, I did not see a huge change.”
After the meeting, the mediator said I could return to work Monday morning. Though I did not consider the meeting to be well mediated, I also did not consider it to be a failure, and I looked forward to learning to be a more effective manager.
While en route Monday, I received a call from the mediator. I could not return because the staff was very upset I was returning without any contact from Rao’s upper management. I then called the Rao’s VP, very upset with everything. Ultimately, it was decided that the cafe be closed.
In closing, I apologize to all who were affected by this incident. A strong work ethic and responsibility remain personal traits I hold dear. I needed it to be known that I do not “use” the “N” word! Though I did speak an ugly word, in repeating what was said, I did not “use” it as a racial slur. The difference is clear to me. That said, as I was the manager, I should have handled the situation differently.
I wish on a global level that, in the pursuit of what is right, misrepresentations would not be a part of reaching that goal. I take responsibility for my actions and I hope others recognize their own influence in the final regrettable outcome.