By now most Western students have read the e-mail sent out Sept. 18 by Director of University Residences Willy Hart regarding the new Chick-Fil-A venue in the VU.
The Atlanta-based franchise has faced turmoil on campus recently, most of it coming from the AS Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance (LGBTA) and the University's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Concerns Committee (LGBTCC). Concerns have arisen because of Chick-Fil-A's owner's open association with Evangelical Christian groups, specifically a group known as Focus on the Family.
Focus on the Family is a socially conservative non-profit organization that has received attention in the past for publicly opposing abortion and gay marriage. It is both a religious and political group and is heavily involved in national politics.
The AS LGBT Alliance declined to make a statement until they hold an official panel with University representatives. The panel is expected to take place on Oct. 17.
Hart, who is also the Chairman of the University Executive Dining Committee, assured students that discriminatory practices against employees and customers would not be tolerated by Sodexo, the contracted company that currently provides and oversees all dining services on campus.
“The Executive Dining Committee took time to ensure that [the] Chick-Fil-A franchise would be welcoming to our LGBT committee by adopting Sodexo's commitment to benefits and diversity inclusion. In other words, the University insisted that Chick-Fil-A would operate under our values and our commitments to diversity,” Hart said via email.
“There was no resistance to the inclusion of these values by the national Chick-Fil-A company,” Hart added.
Along with the LGBTA, other groups in the Resource & Outreach Programs (ROP), including the Women's Center and Social Issues Resource Center are coming together to discuss the dining committee's decision to bring Chick-Fil-A to Western.
The ROP is a collection of eight separate centers which “aim to empower students by providing accurate and unbiased information about social issues,” said ROP Director Casey D. Hall.
He feels that the Meal Plan Task Force (MPTF), created in spring 2007 as a student committee designed to research what students preferred in terms of dining choices, recommended Chick-Fil-A without consideration for the ROP.
The ROP has also declined to make an official statement until they have more information on all sides of the issue.
In the meantime, Hall hopes to get every interested student involved in the discussion.
“We just want to get all sides of the story out to students in as many ways as possible,” Hall said. “Our main concern is to get everyone's voice heard.”
AS Social Issue Resource Center coordinator Devin Majkut, who will moderate the panel being scheduled in mid-October, further expressed the ROP's desire to hold an open forum and hear the opinions of students in favor of having Chick-Fil-A on campus as well as those who oppose it.
“The ROP has come together to provide a space to address the [students'] concerns regarding Chick-Fil-A,” Majkut said. “We wanted to give students who were concerned a place to get more information.”
Some, like the 381 members (at the time of writing) of the Facebook group “Boycott Western's Chick-Fil-A,” remain concerned despite the administration's assurance.
As an indirect response, Hart's e-mail expressed Western's commitment to maintaining and protecting the interests of the student body.
“Western has a strong commitment to encouraging diversity and to opposing discrimination. The university respects an individual's right to hold beliefs that might be different from our own as well as to sponsor or affiliate with religious organizations as long as such affiliation does not result in discrimination,” said Hart.
The ROP maintains that more information is necessary. In the coming weeks they will be collecting student feedback as well as continuing to educate others on Chick-Fil-A's associations in order to allow students to make up their own mind on where they stand.
“Students may feel uncomfortable with Chick-Fil-A for whatever reason. We're just trying to educate students better so they can make educated decisions. We want individuals to be informed about this,” said Hall.
More details to come.