Laura Lee Sturm is a senior at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina, where she is a Human Services major and German Studies minor. She also serves as the Vice President of Spectrum, Elon’s queer-straight student alliance. Elon University’s student government voted last week in support of a bill advising the university administration remove Chick-fil-A from campus. The bill is available at the end of this blog post.
It is time to set the record straight about Chick-fil-A. First and foremost, let me state that Chick-fil-A is entitled to their right of free speech. Actions to remove Chick-fil-A from university campuses have absolutely nothing to do with Dan Cathy’s view on traditional marriage. We value his right to free speech. We value his right to freedom of religion. The issue with this organization stems from the fact that they contribute corporate funds to organizations that actively work to oppress the LGBTQIA community.
This month, Elon University’s Student Government Association (SGA) voted on legislation introduced by Spectrum, Elon’s queer-straight alliance. The legislation was advisory and recommended that administration choose a different Aramark vendor in Elon’s new dining hall. Neither Spectrum nor SGA have the power to remove Chick-fil-A from campus. The legislation simply recommends that the administration consider a different chain be placed in our new dining hall.
Prior to the vote, there were several discussions offered to students for them to discuss the matter further and air any complaints they may have. These discussions were supported and advertised by the administration, but they unfortunately had low turnout. It is extremely important to offer these conversations to students so they feel that their voices can be heard throughout this process. Every viewpoint is important and needs to be respectfully addressed. No student should feel that their opinions on the matter are being overlooked.
Elon University’s non-discrimination policy states “The university does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, color, creed, sex, national or ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or veteran’s status in the recruitment and admission of students, the recruitment and employment of faculty and staff, or the operation of any of its programs.” While Chick-fil-A may not be directly discriminating against their patrons, they are using their money to contribute to the discrimination of their patrons, which is in direct conflict with our non-discrimination policy. If the University does not adhere to its non-discrimination policy, why does it have one? Elon University considers diversity an institutional priority. By keeping Chick-fil-A on campus, they are overlooking that commitment and choosing to disregard their values.
Others may argue that the non-discrimination policy protects Chick-fil-A because they are acting on religious beliefs. It is important to note that Chick-fil-A is not a religious organization; it is a business that practices Christian values, but it is not a religious establishment. Further, religion was also used to argue against desegregation and women’s right to vote – actions we now consider a human right. If someone were to disagree with those rights, we would view those actions as discriminatory. Intolerant of intolerance? Spectrum is not intolerant to others’ views, we are intolerant of discrimination. It is not intolerance when one is standing up for the rights and safety of others.
Chick-fil-A has become a symbol of intolerance on Elon’s campus, and there are students who feel uncomfortable and unsafe as a result of this. This is particularly true for students who have undergone ex-gay therapy, a practice that Chick-fil-A helps fund through their charitable donations. The premise of ex-gay therapy is that it can “fix” gay people and turn them straight. I have friends at Elon who have undergone this therapy. At the SGA meeting they were brave enough to tell their stories about how this therapy has negatively impacted their lives. Having Chick-fil-A on campus and knowing that Chick-fil-A helps fund that practice is a reminder of the pain that these individuals went through and are still living with.
At its core, Chick-fil-A no longer represents “the original chicken sandwich”; it is now a symbol for those against the LGBTQIA community. Is that the type of message your administrators want to send to current and prospective students? Think of it this way: How would your University react if Chick-fil-A was donating funds to a white supremacy group or a neo-Nazi group? I know that on Elon’s campus, these conversations would not be happening because Chick-fil-A would already be gone. If your University has an option to replace Chick-fil-A with another, less discriminatory and controversial establishment, it should absolutely take advantage of that opportunity – especially if it means following their commitment to diversity, adhering to University priorities, and maintaining a safe environment for all students.
There are, of course, other players in this recommendation that need to be taken into consideration: the employees at Chick-fil-A. Before proposing the legislation, Spectrum ensured that no one’s job was in jeopardy. All Chick-fil-A employees at our university are Aramark employees. If administration chooses to replace Chick-fil-A, the employees would simply begin working for the new chain on campus.
Last, if you are interested in making recommendations to expel Chick-fil-A from your campus, I encourage you to garner support from your faculty and staff. Members of Elon’s faculty began a petition to support the removal of Chick-fil-A, which exceeded 250 signatures within 24 hours. That response is quite overwhelming to the administration at a university where there are only 364 full time faculty members. Take the time to speak with faculty and staff at your university. Find out who your allies are and work closely with them to discuss strategies and best ways to reach out to key players in this decision on your campus.
Above all, remember what Ambrose Redmoon once said: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the decision that something else is more important than fear.” The process of standing up for what you believe and what you know is right is not easy. You will receive negative feedback and harsh criticism. But, at the end of the day, you will be able to go to sleep knowing that you did your best, and you stood up for what you believe. Stay strong. Keep fighting. The critics may be the loudest voice in the room, but that does not mean they have the most support.
“A BILL TO OPPOSE THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHICK-FIL-A AND ELON UNIVERSITY
WHEREAS: Elon University promotes an “unprecedented commitment to diversity and global engagement” as its number one priority in its Ten Year Strategic Plan; and
WHEREAS: The Elon University Non-Discrimination Policy states that: “The university does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, color, creed, sex, national or ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or veteran’s status in the recruitment and admission of students, the recruitment and employment of faculty and staff, or the operation of any of its programs”; and
WHEREAS: Elon University’s mission and strategic plan are best accomplished in an environment where our deliberate actions demonstrate that all community members are valued and respected; and
WHEREAS: Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm, WinShape, has a history of donating more than $5 million to anti-gay groups such as Focus on the Family, Exodus International, the American Family Association, and the Family Research Council. The actions of these groups create an environment that is unhealthy, discriminatory, hostile and offensive towards the LGBTQIA community and its allies; and
WHEREAS: Chick-fil-A is present on the University campus by invitation with our food service vendor, Aramark; and the University is at a decision point where it must establish the next food vendor(s) to be included in Lakeside Dining and other food vendor locations on campus; and
WHEREAS: There are two Chick-fil-A retail options available to the University community within a 5 mile radius of the University campus and accessible via the Elon BioBus;
BE IT ESTABLISHED BY THE STUDENT GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION OF ELON UNIVERSITY THAT:
Article 1: We, the members of the Student Government Association of Elon University in accordance with university policy on non-discrimination and a climate of inclusion and respect for human dignity, request that the administration discontinue the relationship with Chick-fil-A in the new Lakeside Dining facility in favor of a food service option that will align with the University’s values and provide for a comparable food vendor with appeal to all campus constituents.
Article 2: SGA recommends that a committee comprised of students, faculty, and staff be appointed by the President of the Student Government Association and the President of the University to review possible vendors and make recommendations to the administration regarding the food service vendor(s) for Lakeside Dining and other locations on campus.”
Image credit: Dr. Tony Crider, professor at Elon University