Peabody graduate students partner with Campus Dining to improve employee safety

Peabody College graduate students Sara Davis and Burcak Kaynar spent the spring semester conducting an analysis of the language of safety in Vanderbilt Campus Dining operations. In an effort to improve overall employee safety, they focused on the use of large machines in Campus Dining facilities by multilingual employees.

A request for research was brought to the English Language Center by Campus Dining as it sought to offer English-language support to multilingual employees. “Our goal is to foster a diverse and inclusive work environment,” Campus Dining explained, “so having resources available to support language barriers in our kitchen is vital.”

Davis and Kaynar, who are earning master of education degrees in English language learning, completed their analysis for Qualitative Language Analysis: From Research to Practice, an applied linguistics course. The course, taught by English Language Center Director Susan Barone, requires students to complete a project on a real-world situation.

After designing the study with Barone, Davis and Kaynar conducted a site visit to Campus Dining facilities, where they collected employee training materials and photographed signs related to safety and large equipment. Their analysis sought first to determine where safety information might be lost in translation and then to craft possible solutions to make the information more accessible. They analyzed the safety language through qualitative language coding, or building a corpus and identifying linguistic and cultural qualities of certain words to make the materials more accessible. The team proposed a multimedia approach, which Kaynar has found helpful as a multilingual learner herself. For many Campus Dining employees, English is a fifth or sixth language.

By providing meaningful instructions to English learner employees, Davis and Kaynar sought to help them be safe at work and feel cared for by their employer. Campus Dining noted that “safety is a top priority in our kitchens, so understanding there are linguistic biases in universal safety materials helped us understand the level of work that needs to happen in this space.”

Davis and Kaynar recognize their work is a first but important step. Davis hopes the project will help address linguistic bias often found in standardized Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other workplace materials, which is a problem that led her to study linguistics. “We are laying one brick,” Kaynar said, “hoping that other bricks will follow.”

Barone said that the students’ project is helping to lay the foundation for a planned ELC course called RISE (Real-world, Interpersonal, Service English). Davis and Kaynar described Campus Dining as “enthusiastic partners” and were grateful for the opportunity to work on this project. Campus Dining stated they were “beyond grateful to work with both Sara Davis and Burcak Kaynar on this special project.”