Published On: June 13, 2018

Following a culpable and outrage-inducing incident in April where two black men were arrested while waiting for a friend at a Philadelphia Starbucks, a company-wide racial-bias training was organized. Licensees of Starbucks, such as the stores on MSU’s campus, were able to elect to participate in the planned closure and training May 29 from 4 to 7 p.m.

“We decided that MSU as an institution would support the closure and follow along so that we were in alignment with company-operated stores,” coordinator of the training and MSU Retail Branded Concepts Manager Michelle Pell says.

The four Starbucks locations on campus partnered with the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives in developing materials for the training.

MSU Intercultural Education Specialist Dr. Jessica Garcia led the Implicit Bias Training and collaborated with Pell to plan the four-hour session, which was divided into three stages. The first focused on what an inclusive environment looks like. The second was an introduction to implicit bias. The third discussed how to handle difficult customers showcased a series of staged realistic scenarios between employees, employees and customers, or between the customers themselves. 

“We definitely have a unique demographic being completely on campus,” Starbucks Barista Katie Morrison says. “Most of our customers are students, international students and faculty sometimes too.”

A section of the training addressed the core values of Starbucks and its desire to create an inclusive space for people outside of their home- and work-life where they feel equally comfortable and welcome.

“Starbucks is on a college campus. So even though they are a part of a larger entity, students don’t view it that way,” Garcia says. “If they have a negative experience in a Starbucks, that’s not just a negative reflection on Starbucks. It’s a reflection on Michigan State, and it impacts their sense of belonging on campus.”

The design of the room was also intentional, with at least one or, in most cases, two managers at every student table. Managers’ historical knowledge and deep understanding of policy was combined with students’ perspectives and realities.

“That was the beauty of it,” says Pell. “It gave a safe space and a safe environment for everyone to call out their own biases personally. That was something I took away, and I see as really valuable because you can’t create that in just any sort of meeting. You have to lay the groundwork for it.”

The training, overall, left partners with a new sense of understanding and belonging.

“I’m really proud to work for Starbucks because of these kinds of things,” says Morrison. “They take these steps to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone.”

What’s next for Starbucks? The fight to battle racial biases is never over, says Garcia.

“As long as people are committed to creating an inclusive space – which they absolutely are – then you’ll get there,” Garcia explains. “But things are always going to happen. The question is how you respond to them.”

When you walk into a Starbucks on campus, you are never buying just a cup of coffee. You are buying into MSU and its values. The training is one big step to ensure the values of on-campus Starbucks and its team members align to those of its customers.


Photo: Starbucks Newsroom