At Joe Van Gogh on the campus of Duke University, the university’s Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Moneta stopped into the local JVG last Friday, heard a rap song playing, and according to Indy Week, did the completely reasonable thing of getting multiple people working at the coffee shop that day fired.
As per Indy Week, Moneta is said to have stopped by the cafe during the mid-day rush to get his usual order of hot tea and a vegan muffin. While suffering the indignity of waiting in line, Moneta heard the musical stylings of one Young Dolph. The song, “Get Paid,” was part of a Spotify playlist chosen that day by Britni Brown, a barista who had been with Joe Van Gogh for 18 months and was at the time of the working the register. To be clear, “Get Paid” is by no means a hymnal; there are n-words, f-bombs, and hard b’s aplenty. It’s a real pearl-clutcher for the pearl-clutching types.
Here’s the song, if you want to hear what all the hullaballoo is about. In case there are any other Duke VPs of Student Affairs out there who may find this distasteful and try to get me fired, let me be clear, there’s bad language ahead (and probably some mean jokes), so please don’t read any further.
When Moneta got to the counter, according to Indy Week, he, “a white man, told Brown, an African-American woman, that the song was inappropriate.” Brown states that she stopped the song, apologized for the offense, and offered Moneta his unflavored ice milk free of charge. Moneta insisted on paying (total power move—look at this guy, with his $4 he can throw around willy-nilly), which he did and then left.
The exchange between Moneta and Brown as described by Kevin Simmons, another Joe Van Gogh barista working the espresso machine that day, as “verbally harassing.” This is where the story probably should end: a grown-up hears grown-up words they don’t like, feels compelled to make sure everyone knows about it and then leaves. But…
On Monday morning, Brown and Simmons were called into Joe Van Gogh’s Hillsborough office and asked to resign.
Indy Week obtained an audio recording of that meeting:
Wiley cleared her throat. “Duke University has instructed us to terminate the employees that were working that day,” she said.
A manager at that same Joe Van Gogh location states that initially they were to just terminate Brown’s contract but later word came down to let go of Simmons—who had no say in what music was played—as well. In the audio recording from the meeting, Brown believes the firing of Simmons is to “cover it up as to make it not look discriminatory for firing a person of color.”
In an email to the Duke Chronicle, Moneta, clearly still shaken up by the curses—but not nearly as distraught about hate speech, per Indy Week—states that he was shocked to hear such language in his coffee shop, and that after expressing his displeasure with the staff he their boss Coffey to continue to express more displeasure, but “that was the end of [his] involvement.” In the same email he also stated that “How [Joe Van Gogh] responded to the employees’ behavior was solely at their discretion,” which contradicts what representatives of Joe Van Gogh stated in the audio recording and also doesn’t seem like the sort of thing you would know if your involvement actually ended after expressing your horror.
Just remember, in 2018 we live in a world where the same person who tweets this:
To those who believe that colleges and universities should prohibit hate speech, I encourage you to read this: https://t.co/dB5FfezKUZ
Freedom of expression protects the oppressed far more than the oppressors.
— Larry Moneta (@Dukestuaff) April 27, 2018
…will get you fired for listening to Young Dolph.
As of publishing, Brown and Simmons—neither of whom have had any prior reports of misconduct—are still out of jobs. Mr. Moneta is believed to be making a full recovery from the rap music-induced wounds to his ears, heart, and soul; his twitter account may not be so lucky.
*image of Joe Van Gogh via Sam0hsong on Flickr.