Arrival of Chick-fil-A still on schedule

Marcus Traxler

Despite resistance from some student groups on campus, plans to open a Chick-fil-A at SDSU are moving forward.

The Union’s expansion plans include three new dining options: Chick-fil-A, Panda Express and Extreme Pita. Each option will be built with its franchise’s specific building requests in mind, with a planned Fall 2013 opening date. The university plans to bring the popular chicken sandwich franchise to campus even with the anti same-sex marriage stance taken by Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy.

Late last spring, representatives of SDSU’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) met with expansion project leaders, and university leadership listened to its concerns.

GSA Co-President Joshua Sulloway said GSA met once with university leadership. The conversation was constructive, he said, but it “dragged on.”

At that time, the school moved forward on constructing Panda Express and Extreme Pita but slowed work on Chick-fil-A to listen to all concerns. Near the end of the semester, SDSU officials decided they couldn’t wait any longer. If they did, the opening of the Union expansion could be delayed.

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.

Following those decisions, the university went to the Students’ Association and asked for their thoughts on the matter. Because classes were out for the semester, SA President Jameson Berreth, SA Vice President Wyatt DeJong and three other SA leaders drafted a stance June 16 on the issue, deciding Chick-fil-A should still come to campus. (Read their letter here.)

With this support, construction moved forward on the Chick-fil-A space in The Union.

Sulloway said neither he nor any of the GSA leadership knew about the university’s final decision until late July or early August.

“I was a little surprised,” Sulloway said. “The dialogue didn’t continue over the summer when it could have. The decision was kind of pushed into our face.”


Selecting Chick-fil-A

Jennifer Novotny, director of The Union, said Chick-fil-A’s low brand fatigue and emphasis on quality food preparation were two of the main reasons the franchise was selected after Student Affairs conducted surveys with students’ input last fall. In the surveys, students indicated a priority for chicken, Chinese food and a healthier food option like Extreme Pita.

“[Chick-fil-A] does very well at college campuses and has a very high food quality,” Novotny said. “Students really wanted sandwich options and we didn’t want to duplicate what we already head in the building or anything near campus.”

There have not been issues between Aramark, SDSU’s food service provider, and Chick-fil-A, according to Novotny.

“There has been a pretty clear line out there between what that particular executive said and how Aramark feels about Chick-fil-A as a partner,” Novotny said. “Both share the same ideals as far as food safety and quality.”

Vice President of Student Affairs Doug Wermedal said that on Aug. 29 the steel will arrive and the girders will start going up to create the exterior of the expansion.

Regarding the Chick-fil-A controversy, Wermedal said, “Inclusion is in the mind of beholder. How can it be inclusion for everyone who comes to campus to have to match your agenda? Both perspectives on the issue are correct.”

Novotny said a group of leaders traveled to Minneapolis to the University of Minnesota in May to discuss with leaders there about how their Chick-fil-A franchise works on the U of M’s diverse campus. They specifically asked if Chick-fil-A has ever pressured them to think or believe a certain way, or to discriminate against potential or current employees.

“And they said no,” Novotny said. “[The U of M’s] representatives said they were among the best companies they’ve worked with.”

“The University of Minnesota has a very large and enduring GLBT community and they have managed to co-exist [with Chick-fil-A],” Wermedal said. “To me, that’s what tolerance and inclusion means is a co-existence. No one voice is supported or endorsed or suppressed.”

Sulloway, who has been one of the lead opponents against Chick-fil-A at SDSU. wants to know why SDSU is compared to Minnesota so often, when, in his opinion, the campuses are so different.

“They keep bringing up the Minnesota campus,” Sulloway said. “I’m wondering why we’re not following other schools that are more progressive and they are leading our future in higher education. Instead, we’re following another school that’s local to us.”


Bird battle 

When the Baptist Press asked Cathy about his views, he said he was “guilty as charged.”

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit,” Cathy told the Baptist Press in July. “We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that … we know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

“It just wasn’t right for [Cathy] to be doing that,” said MacKenzie Clayton, Co-President of the GSA.

As of August 26, a petition at titled “South Dakota State University: Do not include Chick-Fil-A as part of the Student Union dining expansion” had attained 248 digital signatures, with a goal to reach 500. has more than 40 petitions started for various universities to remove Chick-fil-A from their campuses.

“We’re not going for the inclusive campus [at SDSU],”  Sulloway said. “We’re supposed to ‘Be Great, Start Here’ and we’re not really doing anything great about the situation [with Chick-fil-A].

Sulloway hopes SA gets involved to stop Chick-fil-A from coming to SDSU. This could happen, since SA has not officially addressed the issue as a senate. Sulloway says he’ll bring it forward and he’ll bring supporters with him.

A cancellation of Chick-fil-A at SDSU would not be unprecedented. The student senate at Northeastern University, a private university in Boston, passed a resolution 31-5 in February to cancel plans to bring Chick-fil-A to campus. Northeastern followed that decision with a statement that read “We are proud of the decision that affirms our university’s commitment to be an inclusive, diverse community that is respectful to all.”

Sulloway said the GSA is not about to let its guard down now.

“We’re definitely not going to let it go because it’s something that we believe in,” Sulloway said.

There’s another twist in this story that dates back to the SA presidential elections last spring.

Sulloway claims that during the campaign season, then-vice presidential candidate Wyatt DeJong visited a GSA meeting and claimed he didn’t support bringing Chick-fil-A to campus. DeJong remembers being asked for a yes or no answer on the topic but said he didn’t want to take a stance without research.

“What I did say was something along the lines of ideally every single business here, every single area here would represent the students in full,” DeJong sawhen questioned about the specific incident. He admitted that he could see how his comments could be misconstrued.

DeJong said he also talked about whether or not three new dining locations were needed and proposed using the space as offices for GSA or Veterans Affairs.

“If Wyatt didn’t know enough, he could have answered that way,” Sulloway said. “I would question what changed his mind.”


Too late to turn back?

Students’ Association President Jameson Berreth said he doesn’t think the school is “past the point of no return” but he said he expects dialogue to take place soon on the issue.

“It brings to light that there is an issue that needs to be addressed,” DeJong said. “We need to make sure that every student that comes to SDSU is welcome and is not only a part of the community but feels safe and comfortable in it.”

The Chick-fil-A franchise has over 90 college campus locations and the vast majority of them are located at public universities.

“Looking at those relationships and showing that it works elsewhere and it meets what students were looking for in the surveys that were conducted,” DeJong said.

“I hope if there’s a controversy here, I hope it’s one that creates discussion and not one that’s divisive,” Wermedal said.

As Wermedal put it, there’s no guarantee Chick-fil-A will be at SDSU forever.

“Chick-fil-A could be here for three years, three months, 30 years,” Wermedal said. “There’s always room to continue the dialogue even after they open their doors.”