Facing complaints from students and alumni, Emory University administrators finally issued a new statement about Chick-fil-A's presence on the Atlanta campus late last month, but declined to ask for removal of the restaurant over its leaders' anti-gay stands.
Ajay Nair, Emory's senior vice president for campus life, issued the statement Dec. 17. The last official statement from Nair about Chick-fil-A came Aug. 1. In the meantime, Emory's LGBT students and alumni have written letters decrying the chain's presence on campus, and LGBT rights supporters have protested the campus restaurant, located in the Cox Hall food court.
Emory issues statement on Chick-fil-A; won’t remove campus franchise over anti-gay positions
Emory’s Student Government Association also passed a resolution in early December urging Emory to reconsider Chick-fil-A as a campus vendor.
“For more than a year, the Emory community has engaged in profoundly thoughtful conversations about the presence of a Chick-fil-A franchise on our campus,” Nair notes in a letter accompanying the new statement, adding that Emory “strives to manifest what it means to be an ethically engaged community,” and that Emory “seeks to articulate the highest ideals and live with them.”
Discussions about Chick-fil-A’s public statements against gay rights and charitable donations to organizations that fight LGBT equality have occurred throughout all levels of the university, from students, staff and alumni to the University’s Cabinet and Board of Trustees, Nair said.
The resulting conclusions “represent the fairest, most just path forward,” he wrote.
That said, the accompanying statement is not substantially different from what Nair said in his first statement at the beginning of the latest round of criticism over Chick-fil-A.
It also focuses primarily on Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy’s anti-gay statements, which drew national attention this summer when Cathy bragged to a Christian media outlet that the company was “guilty as charged” in opposing gay marriage. But many LGBT activists have focused their criticism on the company’s donations to anti-LGBT organizations through the Winshape Foundation, its charitable giving arm.
“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,” read an Aug. 23 letter sent by leaders of GALA, Emory’s LGBT alumni group, to University President James Wagner.
“If we do nothing, we are just as guilty as if we had made contributions to those hate groups directly,” concluded the letter, signed by GALA Co-chairs Lilly Correa and Ryan Roche.
‘Inclusion and equity’ vs. ‘open expression’
Nair’s new statement begins with nine bullet points, including the following:
• 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. Public positions taken by Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, do not reflect these values of access, inclusion and equity. • Another value of Emory University, however, is open expression. Dan Cathy has the right to express his views freely. • Members of the Emory community hold a variety of personal viewpoints about Dan Cathy’s public positions. • Chick-fil-A has become a symbol of exclusion for some community members. • Emory University will not ask Sodexo to exclude or retain Chick-fil-A on the basis of Dan Cathy’s public positions.
The statement notes that “to the best of our knowledge, Chick-fil-A does not engage in discriminatory practices against its customers or employees,” but does not directly address the corporate donations or the issue of whether a portion of the money paid to the company makes its way to anti-gay groups.
The statement, however, does leave open the option that Chick-fil-A may not remain part of the campus dining offerings — but not based on gay issues.
Emory and Sodexo, the company through which Emory contracts for campus dining services, “continually evaluates sales, customer feedback and dining trends on campus,” according to Nair’s statement.
Preferences identified through surveys include “global cuisine and flavors, health conscious offerings and competitive market pricing,” as well as “sustainability.”
“The Division of Campus Life and Sodexo will work collaboratively with stakeholders this spring to identify brands that support our vision for campus dining,” the statement concludes.
“Any brand changes in Emory Dining, which would begin in the fall of 2013, will be consistent with this vision and the principles articulated above.”
In October, leaders from seven student LGBT groups sent a letter to Emory administrators decrying the ongoing presence of Chick-fil-A on the campus and asking Emory, named one of the most LGBT-friendly campuses in the Southeast, to end its “contractual relationship” with the fast food chain immediately.
“This company has long been a concern for LGBT students, faculty, and alumni because of its anti-gay ideology and activities. What was merely a source of anxiety on campus in recent years has now escalated into an ideologically potent symbol of discrimination and inequality,” reads the letter, dated Oct. 2 and delivered Oct. 8 to Wagner andNair.