SA debates Chick-fil-A


On Sept. 3, the SDSU Students’ Association held a spirited but fair 40 minute discussion about Chick-fil-A coming to campus in Fall 2013.

Joshua Sulloway, co-president of SDSU’s Gay Straight Alliance, spoke for 20 minutes against why Chick-fil-A should come to campus and then took questions from the senate. Doug Wermedal, associate vice president of Student Affairs, also spoke about the university’s decisions, provided context and answered questions. Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy affirmed his stance against gay marriage over the summer on numerous occasions.

Sulloway mentioned the various groups that Chick-fil-A’s WinShape Foundation has given money to, including Family Research Council and Exodus International, in which “men and women surrender their sexual struggles to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.” He supported his evidence by using WinShape’s previous IRS forms.

“These forms paint a clear picture about Chick-fil-A’s stance on same-sex marriage,” Sulloway said. “If SDSU maintains a relationship with this corporation, it will be known as an action that clearly conflicts with the university’s moral views.”

The senators also asked Sulloway about his belief that the money earned at SDSU would be funding the “anti-gay” donations by the WinShape Foundation.

Sulloway cited the mayors of Boston and San Francisco, who have come out and said they don’t support Chick-fil-A coming to their city. When speaking to SA, he didn’t ask for senators to change their beliefs toward same-sex marriage but to push SDSU to be “the most inclusive, leading university we can be.”

“Supporting companies like Chick-fil-A sends a negative message to students on campus and to visitors from the community,” Sulloway said.

Sen. Jim McLain of the College of Arts and Sciences referred to the national politicians who have supported what Chick-fil-A is doing and given a “thumbs up,” as he put it. He asked aloud to his fellow senators about how SDSU’s community would handle a Chick-fil-A location.

“People are being very intolerant and giving approval of Chick-fil-A. Are we going to be students who are going to be doing that same thing and giving a thumbs up and have SDSU be labeled as a university that allowed that type of corporation to come here?” he said. “It kind of weighs on your conscience.”

After conducting surveys and hearing from GSA in late spring, the university asked two student-led groups, the University Food Service Advisory Committee and the Student Union Advisory Committee, to reconsider and revisit the issue once more. Both groups decided unanimously to proceed with bringing Chick-fil-A to campus.

Sen. Libby Trammell asked her fellow senators why the school was bringing this restaurant in, mentioning that it might not be the best idea for the first Chick-fil-A in S.D. to open under these circumstances.

“I don’t think this would even be an issue if, instead of being anti-gay, Chick-fil-A was anti-Semitic,” Trammell said. “I’m not sure this is something I want SDSU to have its name on.”

Sulloway said that Chick-fil-A coming to campus would be demoralizing for the SDSU LGBT community.

“Eating a chicken sandwich will not physically harm me,” Sulloway said. “If you have an LGBT student who knows about Chick-fil-A’s standing, seeing maybe your roommate buying a chicken sandwich, it could hit you completely differently because each person can interpret things differently, so indirectly when they’re purchasing a sandwich they’re going against LGBT rights.”

When Wermedal came forward, he stated that he was not there to debate or dispute any of the statements made before him.

“I’m really very thrilled we are having this discussion,” Wermedal said. “I think this is at the heart of what a body like Students’ Association is for, is to engage important issues, to research them, to respond, and I applaud you. I applaud Josh for standing up for what he believes in.”

Wermedal was asked specifically why the university went with a Chick-fil-A chain and not one with less controversy surrounding it. He responded by saying that Aramark – who has 92 university contracts with Chick-fil-A around the country – partners with the Atlanta-based chain frequently and that the only other option would have been a Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits restaurant.

“They’re Louisiana Fast but they’re also Louisiana Fat. Popeye’s is all fat, all the time,” Wermedal said in response to questions about the chain’s health compared to Chick-fil-A.

He said there was also an advantage for Chick-fil-A because it serves breakfast, lunch and supper and SDSU wanted to have offerings for all three periods of the day. He reiterated that SDSU’s franchise would be locally managed through Aramark and that Chick-fil-A would not own the location.

“At SDSU, this is probably the most vigorous vetting of a franchise that’s ever been conducted,” Wermedal said. The university brought it to student groups, both before and after GSA came forward with issues and also checked into legal action against Chick-fil-A, where the company has never been found guilty of discrimination in hiring or serving members of the LGBT community.

Wermedal also said that the school would be heading down a “slippery slope” if they were to deny Chick-fil-A from arriving on campus because of their Christian values. He said the school already has affiliations with religiously tied organizations, citing Avera Health by name.

“Any change right now would be tremendously expensive for SDSU and would guarantee the building would not open on time,” he said.

Wermedal said university counsel has looked at a potential free speech issue. In a letter by Rich Helsper, who formerly served as the university’s legal counsel dated April 19, he said, “It is my legal opinion that the South Dakota Board of Regents and South Dakota State University do not have the ability to discriminate against Chick-fil-A or any stockholders or members of its executive team because of their beliefs.”

As per Chick-fil-A policy, the SDSU location will be closed on Sundays, something that was initially a concern for the university. Wermedal said 17 percent of the Aramark-Chick-fil-A agreements are with private universities.

Senators raised concerns about limited Chick-fil-A hours affecting student job opportunities. Wermedal said that with Panda Express and Extreme Pita also coming on board, there wouldn’t be any issues with students not getting enough hours.

“They do more business in six days than most do in in seven,” he said, noting that SDSU is going to have to rely more on non-tuition revenue to continue to serve students with scholarships, and Wermedal said Chick-fil-A continuously performs highly.

“I believe due diligence has been done on this issue,” Wermedal said. “When we were looking at Chick-fil-A, we knew there would be social controversy surrounding them and what their owner believes.”

Near the end of the time with Wermedal, Sen. Olivia Siglin of the College of Ag and Bio asked “what difference are we making” about Chick-fil-A coming to SDSU.

“I would say this much,” Wermedal said. “There has been more and better discussion regarding safety for the LGBT community and inclusion around that topic, and I applaud that, and in the next breath, I would say that’s still possible with a Chick-fil-A franchise.”