Concern grows over Emory University’s Chick-fil-A connections

Cox Hall, the food court at the center of Emory’s main campus, includes a Chick-fil-A restaurant. A student committee has now formed to boot the chain, the Emory Wheel, the campus newspaper, reported today.

“The symbol of Chick-fil-A, the restaurant itself, has become a potent symbol of discrimination and inequality,” committee member Andy Ratto, an Emory graduate student, told the Wheel.

In addition to the “make chicken” flyer, the students have distributed buttons and another flyer that reads, “I want my LGBT friends to feel comfortable in their relationships as I do. Don’t eat at Chick-fil-A, Don’t support hate groups,” according to the Wheel.

LGBT alumni speak out

Emory’s LGBT alumni group, GALA, is also speaking out about Chick-fil-A.

“As alumni of Emory University, we would like to formally request that the Chick-fil-A company be removed from our beloved campus.  Chick-fil-A’s ideology of hate and intolerance is not compatible with our University Mission Statement,” reads an Aug. 23 letter sent by GALA leaders to Emory President James Wagner.

“Judging by the homophobic words and actions of top Chick-Fil-A executives, and the $2 million donated by the company to homophobic organizations in 2010 alone, it is clear that Chick-Fil-A does not represent the values embraced by the Emory University community, and allowing such an organization to continue to operate on our campus runs counter to the spirit of equality that the University claims to champion,” it continues.

The letter calls it “ironic” that latest round of controversy over Chick-fil-A occurred in the same year that Emory’s Office of LGBT Life celebratesd its 20th anniversary, alumni backed a $250,000 endowment for the office, and Wagner himself made an “It Gets Better” video.

“If we do nothing, we are just as guilty as if we had made contributions to those hate groups directly,” concludes the letter, signed by GALA Co-chairs Lilly Correa and Ryan Roche.

“We urge you to consider the immediate removal of Chick-fil-A from Emory University.”

In a separate letter, GALA also expressed concern that the university’s Goizueta Business School holds a mandatory student retreat at the WinShape Foundation campus in Rome, Ga.  WinShape was created by Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy and is the company’s main vehicle for philanthropic donations.

In an Aug. 31 letter to Goizueta Dean Lawrence Benveniste, GALA leaders said they had heard complaints from a parent of a student about the retreat location. They note that they have heard about a steering committee and task force that is examining where retreats are held, and stress that WinShape is a “blatant conflict with our university’s culture of diversity and inclusion.”

Emory officials issued an initial response to concerns about Chick-fil-A back in August, stressing the school’s commitment to diversity but also declining to sever the relationship with the fast-food chain.

On Aug. 1, Emory issued a statement about the fast-food chain having a restaurant in the campus food court at Cox Hall.

“Emory University has a long history of creating access, inclusion, and equity for Emory’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer students, faculty, staff and alumni. Recent public statements by Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, do not reflect Emory’s values as an institution,” read the statement from Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Dr. Ajay Nair.

“Nevertheless, freedom of expression and an open exchange of ideas are also central tenets of the Emory community. Emory therefore respects the right of people to express their disagreement with Mr. Cathy by not patronizing Chick-fil-A,” Nair said.

You can read the full statement here.

Benveniste responded via email to GALA’s concern about Winshape.

“As you know, we have been evaluating this issue as a community of faculty, students, staff and alumni. You would be proud of all involved as the discussions themselves have been instructive and have contributed to the strong sense of community we have at Goizuerta,” he wrote Aug. 31.

“I have confidence that we will emerge stronger as a result. I do not have any specific outcomes to report as yet,” Benveniste said.