Bon Appétit manager investigated for racial slurs addressed to students

Bon Appétit, a private on-site restaurant company that has acted as the St. Edward’s food service partner for more than nine years, has closed an internal investigation that arose after chefs alleged a manager referred to students using a racial slur.

A Bon Appétit chef told Hilltop Views that he witnessed Catering Manager Jack Norman make derogatory comments about members of the African Student Organization, as well as lock doors that are usually accessible to the general public. The evening of the investigated incident was Dec. 5, during the organization’s annual “Taste Of Africa” celebration in Mabee Ballroom. Norman declined to comment.

“As a matter of company policy, Bon Appétit does not discuss HR investigations. However, I can tell you that we also do not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind,” said Michael Smith, general manager of Bon Appetit’s on-campus site who said he could not discuss details of the investigation.

Manuel De Los Santos, a Bon Appétit chef who has worked at St. Edward’s for five years, recalls the night of the incident.

“We were riding down the elevator when he first made the comment,” De Los Santos said. “I asked why a certain door was locked and he said, ‘Well there’s a Negro event going on upstairs, I don’t want them stealing anything from us’ and I was like, ‘Jack, are you serious?’”

De Los Santos reported the incident to Bon Appétit management the next day. The following day, sous chefs and other managers called De Los Santos in for a meeting, he said.

“Jack told us that that he meant to say ‘black’ and that he thought the organization had a funny name. But, I don’t see how he can think that,” De Los Santos said.

Caroline Ikpea, president of the African Student Organization, told HIlltop Views that she was “very heartbroken” after she was told about the remarks.

“I couldn’t handle it,” Ikpea said. “We try our best to make sure we educate people on this campus, that’s our main purpose of our organization, so when we hear things like this it definitely makes our job harder.”

After learning about these comments, the ASO met with the Dean of Students Steven Pinkenburg last semester, who in return, referred the students to Cynthia Johnson, associate vice president for Business Services.

“Bon Appétit has completed their internal investigation and remediation efforts and no further action is deemed necessary in this case,” Johnson told Hilltop Views via email Feb. 15.

Johnson said the university’s contractors must meet St. Edward’s standards of conduct.

“Contractor employees must follow the university’s standards for appropriate conduct, including a commitment not to tolerate verbal or written harassment or discrimination,” Johnson said. “Bon Appétit continues to be a good business partner for the university and has been transparent and thorough in their investigation of this matter.”

The ASO said they want the termination of Norman’s employment as well as a student-led panel with people of color discussing the issues they face on campus.

ASO representatives say they want this incident to serve as a learning experience for the university.

“As people of color on campus, it is necessary for our well-being that the school provides a safe space in order for us to learn,” ASO member Kadija Samura said. “Although this campus is very progressive, there are still instances when people of color face aggressions on a micro and macro level.”