The Chick-fil-a chicken sandwiches in the Stern Center have long been a favorite of College of Charleston students. According to Jan Brewton, Director of Business and Auxiliary Services, Chick-fil-a is the best selling brand on campus, and one of the top retail corporations in the Southeast.
Following president of Chick-fil-a Dan Cathy’s anti-gay remarks and the revelation of the company’s donations to anti-gay organizations, it’s no longer the chicken getting all the attention. College students are returning after Chick-fil-a’s controversial summer, ready to protest their on-campus branches of the restaurant, and College of Charleston students are no different.
The College already has a small Chick-fil-a in the Stern Student Center, which was similarly boycotted a few years ago by previous SGA President Isaiah Nelson. This Chik-fil-a was brought to campus in 2003, when the student body requested the chain to be brought to campus.
What sparked action this time was the the College’s Dining Services Facebook page announcement of a new, full-service Chick-fil-a in Berry Residence Hall. According to Brewton, the decision to build the new Chick-fil-a was made last September, before any of Cathy’s controversial remarks, and before the administration was aware of Chick-fil-a’s corporate philosophy and support of anti-gay organizations.
Sara McNamara, a lesbian student at the College, said she was inspired to start a petition against opening a second Chick-fil-a on campus. McNamara said via Facebook, “After people posted on the announcement sparking a debate, my friend Katie Rhoden and I felt like we should actually DO something, rather than just complain.”
McNamara said this isn’t just about fighting a discriminatory company on our campus. She said that “it has always been about getting the word out that hatred is not okay, especially on our campus. All of the work we’ve done will be more than worthwhile if just one ‘questioning’ child feels less alone.”
McNamara runs a Facebook page against Chick-fil-a called “College of Charleston Students and Friends Against Homophobic Chick-fil-a”; the group has over 700 members; the petition that McNamara started had 895 signatures as of Tuesday, Sept. 4.
McNamara and her petition garnered enough attention to lead SGA to host a forum on Sept. 4 to give students the opportunity to voice their opinions to the administration. SGA President Erica Arbetter led the forum and students spoke with notable campus representatives including Steve Osborn, EVP of Business Affairs at the College, Jan Brewton, and Michelle Crowe, the Senior Food Service Director for Aramark, which is the College’s official food service provider.
Only six students attended the forum, including Adrian Berry, a student working with McNamara.
Arbetter said, that “SGA takes no official stance for or against Chick-fil-a. We’re here to side with the student body. We [SGA] will do anything for you, I will… if you take advantage of the opportunity.”
Of the students that attended the forum, Berry spoke on behalf of McNamara and those that signed the petition. He expressed concern that his tuition would be going toward on-campus dining retail, and therefore benefiting Chick-fil-a. He said, “We’re just looking for acknowledgement [that our opinions have been taken seriously].”
Brewton said, “We’re just serving chicken.”
When questioned on where profits from Chick-fil-a were going, Brewton made it clear that most of the money goes right back into campus operations. She cited new furniture in the Lightsey courtyard, City Bistro, P.O.D in the Education Center and Stern’s Burger Studio as facilities that have all benefited directly from on-campus retail.
Brewton said she wants to remind students that this is, at the end of the day, a retail operation. “Students are voting for what they want on-campus every time they spend their money,” Brewton said. “It’s not like Chick-fil-a is a dining hall like City Bistro and Fresh Food, Co., where you can use your meal plan; Chick-fil-a is retail dining.”