My name is Nassim Kerkache, and I work at the Science Center mail room. I’ve been working there for the last 19 years. I was a coordinator for 9 years, and I’m on leave now.
My normal day starts early morning. I leave home at 5:00 and I get here to Harvard like 6, 6:30. I don’t start working until 8:00 but I am in the mailroom at 6:30, quarter to seven every day. And I start helping people, the delivery guys, even before I start working at 8:00. At 8:00 I open the door and we start the day, waiting for my employees to come, and we start the day, waiting for the packages to come and the mail, we process the packages, we sort the mail, and at 10:00 we open the window for students to pick up their packages and their mail.
I managed the employees there and I directed them to do things, and I work with them too. We make sure everything goes smoothly, and everything is working perfectly. For years I did that, and that’s how we worked as a team. And the place worked perfectly, without any problems whatsoever. We never had any problems, until they changed the management.
I enjoyed—I loved—working with the students. I loved students. And interaction with the students. You see all walks of life, students from all over the world. I loved working with the students. That’s why I used to come early. Even the management themselves told me, you’re always here. I got plenty of sick time and vacation, but I was always there. I loved my job.
The job—it’s a great job. It’s a good environment. I made that place very pleasant, for not only the employees but also for the students. Students used to come there and hang out with us over there, because they liked the atmosphere, the treatment, and everybody.
The problem started when the new management came, and we were going through a process for them to take over. I showed them a lot of things. They had to be there for 90 days to learn about the place, and the function, and everything. We had one of their managers who used to come every day and learn things and write them down and everything. And then they decided to move these people out of here. The manager there, she said to me, “we’re going to get these two”—these two people, Johany and Marvin—she called Marvin the “dirty black man” and [Johany] “the embarassing Latina”—“out of here, so the parents, the students’ parents, won’t see these faces.”
It’s a horrible thing to say. That’s what she said to me. Their thinking was, “you throw everybody under the bus, you come on our side.” But I said, “these people aren’t doing anything wrong. They’re working.” And they said, “you are keeping a secret from us,” I don’t know what secret they’re talking about.
One of the managers, I was asking him for supplies, and he said, “stop barking like a dog.” To ask for supplies. They cut the supplies from me. They had a plan for me. They wanted to start with the little ones, Marvin and Johany, and when they finish them, they turn to me.
And that’s exactly what they did. I have it in writing too, some of the stuff they did.
I went for training to 219 Western Ave, the main university mail service, and I found myself doing work I did 19 years ago when I came to work here, sorting the mail. When I went to [my manager’s] office to ask her why am I doing something I did 20 years ago, she said, “Your English is not good enough to be a coordinator, so we’ll train you here.” And she put me there sorting the mail. I went back there again the next day for training and she said again to me, she said I “don’t have the manners or the education to be a coordinator.” That’s what she said to me. So, they did have a plan for me.
Her boss, when I met with him once, I sat with him and he said to me, I made more money than any of his employees. When I met with him, that’s what he told me.
And they started coming after me. For no reason whatsoever, they started telling me to stop giving flatbeds to students. And I tell you, before we left the mailroom, they had so much trouble with the department in the science center. They were losing packages, people were complaining, and they had so much of a problem they had to call for a meeting with [the manager] to find out what’s going on.
And they said to her, “where are the regular people?” Which is me. And she said to them, “they’re on leave.” Which is not true. It was a lie. She transferred us from the Science Center to 219 Western Ave, and she told the department that the regular people were on leave. So she made them think that one day we were going to come back.
Instead of thanking us for the wonderful job we do, instead, it’s the opposite. [She became manager] two and a half years ago. And she said, I’m not going to change anything, I’m not going to change anything.
When [the new manager] took over, she said, you do too much customer service. And I said, “This is what I always did for students.” But they said, “Oh, don’t give them this.” She used to tell me, “That’s not our business. They can go to Yard Operations.” But I said, “Listen, for years, I have done this with students, let them borrow the flat-beds at move-out. That’s what we always did.”
[Then] she said, the first thing we need to do is to get these two out of here. And I said, “what do you mean, these two?” And she said, “These two, the dirty black man (Marvin) and the embarrassing Latina.” She said “those two”—she said “we cannot leave them in the mail room, they’re going to face all the parents.” And these are the people who have been doing the job for years.
The management told me, do not side with them. But I stood up for Marvin and Johany on everything, and after that they transferred me. It’s humiliation. They knew that I did this job 20 years ago. But on top of that, she had to say those things: “You’re a foreign man. You’re an Arab. You’re like this, you’re just like Marvin and Johany. So now I have words for you.” She said she does not want the students’ parents to come to the window and talk to people with an accent. That’s what her plan was.
What she said to me about my English, my accent, what she said about Marvin as a dirty black man, what she called him—I’ve never heard somebody talk like this. Not here at Harvard University, not anywhere. “An embarrassing Latina.” It’s an insult, it’s a racist remark. It’s terrible. It bothered me so much. I couldn’t even sleep, when I thought about it. Until now, it bothers me, what she said to me.
I’ve been here in America for twenty years. I know I have an accent, you don’t have to tell me I have an accent! I do have an accent. But to come to my face, to tell me, you have an accent and your English is not good enough to be a coordinator, I don’t know. So anybody who has an accent who is in a higher position in America should be removed? It’s very stupid.
The salary stays the same, but my job went from a coordinator to the lowest employee. She promoted people who worked under me, and now I work under them. They had a job opening, I applied, they gave it to the guy who calls me all the time and asks me questions about the mail room. Now he’s a manager and I have to report to him. And they denied me the job.
My lawyer filed a law suit now, and we’re waiting for a response from them, and then we’ll go from there. It’s a big challenge here. I mean, when people complain to the university, they don’t do anything. Because they are on the side of the management. But they should investigate, and they should see what’s going on … this is not only one person, this is too many people are complaining. There’s a pattern.
Harvard University should investigate the Campus Services management. They should be investigated about what they did and said about me and others—about Marvin and Johany and people we don’t know. They should investigate them. They should hold them accountable for their behavior. It’s racist behavior, when you go and tell somebody like that for no reason whatsoever – even if you have a reason, you shouldn’t talk like that to people.
What she said to me—I have an accent, my English is not good enough to be a coordinator. My English is good enough to be a lower-level employee—that’s fine. But you’re not entitled to be a coordinator or a supervisor or manager, because of my accent. I was a coordinator for nine years, and I was employed there for nineteen years. I went through all the students every year, I moved them in and I moved them out.
America is made up of all walks of life. I had students from all over the world. That’s why I loved my job there, we had everybody there. We had the Americans, the foreigners, it’s a mixed pie, and it’s a good pie. It’s a very good pie.
They came and they said, we don’t want that pie. We want this pie.
It’s very unfortunate, this Campus Services management.
Interview by Andrew Troska ‘17, transcribed by Sandra Korn ‘14