On Thursday, April 12th, two black men sat down at a Philadelphia Starbucks in preparation for a meeting with a local real estate developer to discuss investment opportunities. After one of the men asked to use the bathroom, a Starbucks employee ended up calling 911 – prompting allegations of racism, #BoycottStarbucks and Starbucks’ CEO Kevin Johnson’s “deepest apologies.” Fast forward to this Tuesday when Starbucks closed 8,000 stores to conduct racial bias training; a move the New York Times characterizes as “part social justice crash course and part self-reflection exercise.”
The Stanford Daily: Terrance Zhao recounts a sociologically instructive visit to Starbucks. Upon entering, he also tried to use the bathroom: “Before I knew it, there was an employee in my face, asking me to order something first.”
• Discussing Starbucks’ policy with friends generated a mixed response often dictated by race: “wait, you’re allowed to sit down without buying anything?” or “wait, they tried to kick you out for not buying anything?”
• Zhao distinguishes between taking issue with Starbucks’ policy itself and the implementation of it – primarily challenging the latter: “If it were applied equally to everyone, I’m fairly sure I’d have no objections.”
• The piece ends by suggesting the issue is representative of nation-sized bias: while “we are getting coffee in the same Starbucks, we are living in different Americas.”
The Minnesota Daily: The Editorial Board of the Minnesota Daily acknowledges the weight of Starbucks’ choice to close its doors on May 29th, noting the voluntary training “will cost the company millions in sales on the afternoon of May 29.”
• Hints at Starbucks’ ulterior motives: “We question how genuine Starbucks' efforts are and if the response to this incident is simply a strategic move by their public relations team.”
The West Virginia Daily Athenaeum: Kameron Duncan immediately credits Starbucks – the “decision to educate employees by Starbucks is a noble one,” but wastes no time in moving on to point out the more pernicious racism evidenced by the Starbucks saga:
• “A 14-year-old African American boy was shot at after he asked a stranger for directions to his school…a white man shot and killed a 19-year-old black woman after she knocked on his door following a car accident.”
• Duncan demonstrates that it would be a missed opportunity not to consider this event in conversation with the other – oftentimes more grave – cases of everyday racism.
The Loyola Maroon: Alana Davis…just doesn’t like Starbucks: "Luring in students with free Wi-Fi (that doesn’t work) and cramming them into those leather chairs with their Pink Drinks has commercialized the coffee shop experience that I used to love at Village Coffee."
• While she penned this piece before the events occurred, it’s worth including a control variable in every assessment.
The Bottom Line: Students have been quick to scrutinize Starbucks’ gaffe, but there have been varying levels of support, praise, and commentary on its response and attempts to stop the bleeding. 99% of college articles have admonished Starbucks for its initial fumble, and at least acknowledged – and oftentimes credited – its efforts to prevent a similar mistake in the future. It’s worth noting that one month later, as fiery emotions simmer and Starbucks PR machine revs to speed, college students have shown little interest in cutting the coffee chain out of their routine – except Alana at Loyola University, of course.