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Hundreds sign petition to 'restore freedom of expression' for Lenoir worker

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Carolina Dining Services employee Lee Win serves ice cream to a student in Lenoir Dining Hall on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.

More than 300 people have signed a petition in support of Lee Win, a food service worker at Lenoir Dining Hall and student at Chapel Hill High School, to “restore his freedom of expression.” The petition was formed after Win said his management asked him to not make jokes with students due to a complaint that was received. 

 During one of his shifts in late January, Win said a customer dropped a brussel sprout on the table of the vegan self-serve station.Win jokingly said aloud, "Hot people don’t make messes," which he said made the person the joke was directed toward laugh. 

“But then a passerby, like a bystander, overheard it," Win said.

He said he remembered that the other customer said something along the lines of, "You might get fired for this, you might want to watch it." Five minutes later, Win said management pulled him aside to tell him about a complaint they had received. 

“The exact words, I'm not even joking, were literally just, ‘You need to cut out the jokes,’" he said. “‘We just got a complaint, and you just need to smile and serve.’” 

The same day, after hearing about the complaint from Win, first-year Paloma Fernandez said she started the petition to urge Win's managers to reconsider their decision and restore Win's "freedom to interact freely with students.” She said Win is an integral part of Lenoir because of the humor he brings to his interactions with students while working the ice cream bar, his main position. 

“Students have assignments, exams, day-to-day stressors and just going to get some ice cream and having a nice laugh is always something that can contribute positively to your day,” Fernandez said

She said she and her friends often eat dinner at Lenoir and each time one of her friends gets ice cream, they share what Win joked about with them. 

A high school student, Win works part-time at Lenoir as an Aramark employee, the dining contractor for Carolina Dining Services. He said he balances school, his job and musical theater. 

He said some of his jokes include calling people who order vanilla or chocolate ice cream boring, and joking around based on someone’s choice of cone or bowl. 

“Sometimes when they don't specify, I tell them, ‘Oh well what do you want it in, do you want me to throw it at you?’” Win said. “‘Do you want me to kick it to you? You want me to mama bird feed it?’”

Win said it was always done as joking, playful banter. He also said he doesn’t make comments to everyone because “not everyone is going to get it.” Fernandez said she feels that Win’s jokes are never meant to be malicious or offensive.

David Hix, a UNC first-year, said he and his friends love Win and all the jokes he makes. He said he remembers Win telling him he needs some ice cream and has joked with one of Hix’s friends about ordering the birthday cake flavor. 

Hix also said if Win’s jokes made someone uncomfortable then it is important for Win to be aware, but for management to ask him to stop engaging with students is “overkill.”

Even though Win had one complaint about his jokes, he said he doesn’t think this one indicator should outweigh all the people who do enjoy his humor. 

Win said he hasn’t shown the petition to his managers yet, but plans to after there has been a full week to collect signatures. He said he hopes they will reconsider the decision to restrict him.

When contacted regarding the situation, a representative of CDS said they were unable to comment on personal matters and noted that Win is employed by Aramark.

“And to only be restricted to just smile and serve, without having to explain myself, rubs me the wrong way,” Win said. “And I want my management to know I am not okay with that.”

@FunderburkCelia

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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