Members of Eastern Michigan University’s LGBTQ student body gathered in the Student Center, Tuesday, Feb. 7 to share questions, comments and concerns regarding the university’s decision to add the popular southern-based restaurant chain; Chick-fil-A to the school’s dining options. The meeting was titled: “A Community Conversation: Chick-fil-A on Campus.”
Founded in 1946, Chick-fil-A has opened over 2,000 stores nationwide. Twenty more locations are set to open across the state of Michigan by 2022, with 10 more locations coming this year including the campus of Eastern Michigan University. Before last year, the only locations that offered Chick-fil-A were the campus of Oakland University’s Student Union and the McNamara Terminal of Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.
EMU’s Board of Regents held a meeting last summer to finalize the decision to privatize its dining services by saying “yes” to a 10-year deal with Chartwell’s Higher Education services back in June 2016. Interim President Donald Loppnow gave his recommendation, based on that of a unanimous recommendation from a committee comprised of representatives from Academic and Student Affairs, Operations and the president’s office.
Chartwell’s recommended Chick-fil-A to campus due to popular ratings among Eastern Michigan University students in a survey conducted last April. It scored as the second highest food provider in the survey with a sample size of 1,885 students. The survey did not conclude how many LGBTQ students were surveyed. No. 1 was Starbucks, in regards to a second location on campus, the first being located on the second floor of the Student Center.
“We feel that this partnership will not come at the expense of the university or the community,” Donald Bargo, Director of Operations for Chartwell’s said after the meeting.
The LGBTQ community showed disdain at the meeting on Tuesday because of Chick-fil-A’s decision back in January 2011 to co-sponsor a marriage conference with the Pennsylvania Family Institute (PFI), an organization that has been well-documented in its opposition of same-sex marriage.
Furthermore, Chick-fil-A has donated $5 million via WinShape, the restaurant’s charitable conduit, to various other groups with similar agendas -- $3 million of that total was donated to Christian organizations between the years of 2003 and 2009.
In July 2012, Chick-Fil-A’s, CEO Dan Cathy made headlines when he said “guilty as charged” in response to a question about whether the company was in “support of the traditional family.” The quip led to boycotts of the restaurant chain by equality supporters.
From data presented at the meeting by LGBTQ Resource Center Graduate Assistant Blake Bonkowski, Chick-Fil-A has a rating of zero on the Human Rights Campaign Buyers Guide, which assesses companies’ policies regarding LGBTQ rights. The restaurant chain doesn’t provide domestic partner care for their workers and its health insurance policies doesn’t cover gender transition related care.
According to the 2011 Campus Pride Climate Index, Eastern Michigan University was named one of the top “gay friendly universities” in the nation. Eastern Michigan was one of only four Michigan universities to earn a 4.5 rating or above on the list (Western Michigan, Grand Valley State University, The University of Michigan).
The current LGBTQ student body on campus is concerned about the future of the university. Several LGBTQ students who spoke at the meeting felt their rights are jeopardized, citing the gay friendly rating as a reason they chose to attend the university in the first place. Students are also concerned by the lack of consultation with the campus’s LGBTQ Advisory Board on the decision to include Chick-Fil-A on campus.
“I don't agree with Chick-Fil-A's business as they have been very openly homophobic in past instances. For Eastern to even consider doing business is a slap in the face to the students who are trying to feel safe and included on Eastern's campus,” said freshman and Criminal Justice/Criminology double Major Al Mona.
“To say that the school wants to do business with CFA is disrespectful to the school LGBT population and will not get any business from me,” Mona continued.
Even Oakland University’s campus thought it had maybe made a mistake. In an article written by the OU Post’s Mark McMillan, in August 2012, Oakland University representatives conducted a meeting about the fate of the only Chick-fil-A in Michigan, located in OU’s Pioneer Food Court in the Oakland Center.
According to Jo Reger, associate professor of sociology and director of the Women and Gender Studies program at OU, the meeting had been planned for a month.
“The faculty there wanted to voice their opinion,” Reger said. “We really don’t feel like the organization that works against the civil rights of students, staff and faculty should be allowed on campus.”
Regardless of the disconnect, this is a done deal. The Chick-fil-A will open in McKenny Hall as planned, with ground breaking as early as April 2017. Chartwell’s feels this is a good choice because of the foot traffic to the building and the building’s rich tradition with being one of the four oldest buildings on campus.
Some students and university staff and faculty alike feel good about the change. The restaurant will continue to adhere to all non-discriminatory practices per the agreement that EMU struck with Chartwell’s.
“There have been open and frank discussions regarding the addition of Chick-fil-A with the LGBT office and any concerned students,” Geoff Larcom, Executive Director of Media Relations said.
If the university faculty, Chartwell’s and the LGBTQ students can coexist, only time will tell what the future holds for Eastern Michigan University moving forward. For the time being, it’s business as usual.
“I identify as a Christian woman, but not and will never be homophobic. I would still eat there however,” Mikayla Champine, 21, a junior majoring in Social Work said.