As Columbia continues to recruit West Harlem residents for University jobs in Manhattanville some locals said they fear work in the largely Hispanic neighborhood might not be within grasp for non-English speakers. Last month, the Columbia University Employment Information Center on 125th Street and Broadway hosted an open house for the local community to learn about job opportunities at the University, but some attendees said they felt the University didn't do enough to bridge the language barrier. One woman left the event because none of the presenters from CEIC spoke Spanish. Community Board 9 member Marisol Alcantara said that Columbia needed a translator at the event and that the University often overlooks the needs of the Hispanic community of West Harlem. However, University spokesperson Victoria Benitez said that Columbia provides many resources for the Latino community in Harlem and beyond. "Columbia University, with more than 14,000 employees is the seventh largest nongovernmental employer in New York City. Of its 14,000 employees, more than 16 percent of its regular faculty and staff self-identify as Latino/Hispanic," Benitez wrote in an email. In 2008 the University said the Manhattanville expansion will likely create 6,000 new University jobs and 1,200 construction-related jobs. Benitez recently told Spectator that 68 percent of contracts awarded for Manhattanville projects have been awarded to "minority, women, or locally-owned firms" and that between August 2008 and September 2010, 66 percent of the construction work hours were done by minority, female, or local workers. According to Alcantara, the only reason the flier advertising the CEIC open house was in Spanish was because she translated it herself. "I asked if I could translate it because the majority of people who live in the expansion area are Hispanic," Alcantara said. "A lot of employees at Columbia now are Latinos, if you're going to have an employment center in West Harlem, why would you have a job fair without a Spanish flier and without having someone there who speaks Spanish?" Last year the University began sending out their weekly construction updates in both English and Spanish. Alcantara said that while resources at the CEIC exist, they are not always implemented or advertised properly. "They tell you, you can use the computer and search for jobs, but a lot of people don't even know how to use the computer. The everyday person might not have those skills," Alcantara said. However, Benitez said that the CEIC does provide lots of Spanish language resources to bring in potential employees. "The Columbia Employment and Information Center located at 125th Street and Broadway has Spanish-speaking staff available to assist local residents with their job search, and the Center also offers online job readiness training programs in Spanish," Benitez wrote in an email. Patricia Rojas, CC '11 and president of the Dominican student organization Grupo Quisqueyano, was surprised that the CEIC didn't bring a translator to the open house event last month. "Columbia has an incredibly diverse faculty and an incident like this does surprise me. Not having a translator present at this meeting may have been a detail that was mistakenly overlooked by the coordinators of this event," Rojas said. Harlem resident Carmen Alicea said that perhaps programs and services at CEIC aren't being fully utilized because they aren't being well-advertised. "It's possible to have great programs but not have them be advertised, so people don't know about them," Alicea said.
Columbia Spectator Staff