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Starbucks Near Second City To Improve Training After Customer Called Performers The N-Word

By Mae Rice in News on Mar 22, 2016 5:54PM

Photo via Flickr

Update, 5 p.m.: Read Rashida Olayiwola's account of this incident; she was one of the two Second City performers involved.

Starbucks has banned a female customer from their stores after the customer used racial slurs against two black Second City employees in a store near the Second City Training Center last weekend.

Following the incident, Starbucks also promised to “reiterate in our on-going trainings how to best handle difficult customers to ensure Starbucks, as a company, is embracing diversity." As Second City Creative Director Tyler Alexander recounted in a widely-shared Facebook, employees at the Starbucks around the corner from the theater, located at 210 W. North Ave., heard the slur and appeared to do nothing to remove the woman on Sunday.

Later that day, Alexander shared a post on Second City’s Facebook recounting the incident and announcing that Second City would begin serving free Groundswell coffee as an "alternative" for theater employees and students who no longer wanted to patronize that Starbucks location.

“Inaction around these types of things [is] one of the biggest problems that America faces when it’s dealing with discrimination,” Alexander told Chicagoist.

Alexander spoke with both the employees involved and Starbucks representatives after the incident, and said that according to his understanding, the customer using the slur was "probably mentally unstable," and the Starbucks shift manager did not intend to ignore her, but rather went into the back of the store to get security.

"But [the manager] never communicated that to anybody—just sort of disappeared and [then] continued serving customers," Alexander said. He added he has no reason to doubt the shift manager actually called security, but the theater's employees were nonetheless frustrated because "the woman who used these racial slurs was still in the Starbucks eating her lunch and drinking her coffee 30 minutes after the fact. It looked like, from their perception, no action was really taken.”

Here's Alexander's full Facebook post:

Today, two of our employees were called a horribly racist and derogatory name inside of the Starbucks at North and...

Posted by The Second City on Sunday, March 20, 2016

“We weren’t necessarily calling for a boycott of all of Starbucks,” Alexander tells us. “We think Starbucks is a progressive company.” However, he thought the incident highlighted training issues, at least at the North and Wells Starbucks location. "They responded really quickly, and they took action as well, which we really appreciate.”

Alexander posted Starbucks' response on Second City's Facebook, as well. It's an apology from a Starbucks’ district manager, Laura, who promises to emphasize resolving similar conflicts in future Starbucks trainings.


Rashida Olayiwola, a Second City ensemble member, also commented on Alexander’s initial post on the Second City Facebook. Olayiwola said in the comment, pictured below, that she was one of the victims of the incident, that the slur used was the n-word, and that the woman harassing her threatened to call the police on Olayiwola when she stood up for herself:


On her personal page, Olayiwola added:

*this ain't for likes, or even sympathy, just being real* still feeling all the feels from yesterday (if u was there &...

Posted by Rashida Sheedz Olayiwola on Monday, March 21, 2016

Moving forward, Alexander said he and other Second City representatives consider the problem with the nearby Starbucks mostly resolved: “We feel like we came to some sort of resolution, with additional training on how to deal with these incidents going forward.”

However, Second City will also continue to provide free Groundswell coffee on the premises, Alexander said.

We've reached out to Olayiwola and the other person involved in the incident, and will update this post if we hear back.

This incident is especially sad and ironic given Starbucks’ short-lived “Race Together” campaign, a company-wide effort to spark open and empathetic discussions of race amongst Starbucks baristas and customers.