Student experiences racism from customer of local restaurant


Tony Yager, a telecommunications technician at Central Michigan University, sits at the bar Aug. 26 at Cheers Neighborhood Grill.

(Courtesy Photo | Rondo Sanders)

A Central Michigan University junior is filing a complaint against a university employee after he made a racial comment to him at Cheers Neighborhood Grill.

Rondo Sanders and his girlfriend decided to have dinner at around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at Cheers. They sat down at the bar and ordered food. At the end of the bar, Tony Yager, a CMU telecommunications technician, held a conversation with friends in the mostly empty restaurant.

One of the other patrons asked Yager, who was wearing his branded CMU department shirt, to "tell them a story."

Without background music and few people at the bar, everyone began listening to Yager speak, Sanders said.

"Me and my buddies used to determine who jumps out the back of the plane by going through names 'a' through 'z,' and I'm not talking names," Yager said. "I'm talking African Americans – the darkest to lightest skins. We'll say they are 'a.'"

Sanders turned around, and the two men made eye contact.

"Best joke ever," Yager said, laughing and shaking his head.

Sanders set down his fork, got up from the bar and left to clear his head. Yager continued to speak with other customers though Sander's girlfriend said some of the people in the bar were made uncomfortable by Yager's comments.

Sanders went back into the restaurant. He approached Yager and explained why he felt his words were offensive. Yager didn't appear to be interested in listening to him, Sanders said.

Before he left the restaurant, Sanders spoke with Cheers manager Brandon Swindlehurst. Swindlehurst told Sanders "there was nothing he was willing to do," Sanders said.

"Tony and his buddies are regulars at Cheers and friends with the owner. They do this kind of thing all the time," Sanders said. "A bunch of people reached out to me and said they always hear them using racial slurs in conversation."

Sanders posted his experience to Facebook.  The post has garnered more than 800 shares and 500 comments since it was first posted.

Just went to Cheers Neighborhood Grill & Bar in MT PLEASANT MICHIGAN OWNED BY Richard Swindlehurst !!! Also owns The...

Posted by Rondo Sanders on Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Earlier today, Cheers posted a statement on its Facebook page addressing the situation.

We accept full responsibility for disappointing our customers and others with our response to a recent racist incident...

Posted by Cheers Neighborhood Grill & Bar on Thursday, August 27, 2020

Central Michigan Life contacted Yager for a comment for this story. 

Yager's supervisor, Vice President for Information Technology Jim Bujaki, said CMU is looking into the situation.

"I cannot comment on an ongoing investigation, but stress that racist conduct by any member of the CMU community violates both our commitment to building an inclusive environment where every person feels welcome and valued as well as our core values and our policies governing such conduct," Bujaki said. "Our university takes these types of reports very seriously and investigates them as potential misconduct to the fullest possible extent."

Sanders said he has spoken with Vice Mayor Amy Perschbacher about how to handle the situation. He has also spoken with the Office of Civil Rights and Institutional Equity at CMU.

"I want to speak to (Yager) and know where he is coming from before I decide what should be done with that man," Sanders said. "I don't necessarily want him fired if he's remorseful, but at the same time, he is too old to be acting like that, so he definitely needs to feel some repercussions."

If students find themselves in a similar situation with a CMU employee, they can email or call (989) 774-3253.