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NYU students attempt to remove Chick-Fil-A from campus, 2011
In the summer of 2012, the American fast food restaurant chain Chick-fil-A became the focus of an anti same-sex marriage controversy when the restaurant’s owners made public comments in support of traditional marriage. Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Truett Cathy, a self-described evangelical Christian, admitted to the Baptist Press he was “guilty as charged” in his support of marriage exclusively between a man and a woman. “We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles,” Cathy said. Furthermore, Chick-Fil-A received widespread criticism for its financial contributions of over $8 million to The WinShape Foundation, a charity foundation started by S. Truett Cathy. A report published by the LGBT watchdog group Equality Matters, revealed that The WinShape Foundation had given considerable donations to the Family Research Council, Georgia Family Council, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Exodus International, organizations noted for strong anti-gay beliefs.
Because of the fast food chain’s views on “non-traditional” marriage, Chick-Fil-A received a large amount of public backlash. Mayors of several major US cities issued statements that the franchises would not be welcome in their respective cities “unless they open up their policies.” In response to Chick-Fil-A’s bid to build a second restaurant in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said “Chick-Fil-A values are not Chicago values. They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents.” Similarly, San Francisco mayor Edwin M. Lee tweeted, “Very disappointed #ChickFilA doesn’t share San Francisco’s values & strong commitment to equality for everyone. Closest #ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away & I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer.”
In addition, students at several colleges and universities across the country began launching campaigns to ban or remove Chick-Fil-A restaurants from their campuses. Specifically in April 2011, students at New York University (NYU) began an effort to remove the Chick-Fil-A located in a dining hall on University Place in Manhattan, the only franchise located in New York City. In order to build awareness for the push to remove Chick-Fil-A from NYU’s campus, senior communications major Joe Picini began raising the issue at Undergraduate Social Work Student Association meetings. According to Picini, the issue of spreading awareness to students was urgent because the food vendor contract was set to expire in May of 2011. “I am trying to put as much pressure as possible on the University to examine this issue and make a ruling at their final meeting of this year (April 28). Currently, the Chick-fil-A investigation is not on the agenda” said Picinni.
Hillary Dworkoski, a freshman at NYU, along with several other students, started an online petition on change.org demanding the university close down the Chick-Fil-A on campus. In the petition, Dworkoski appealed to the NYU community, stating that students, faculty, and alumni pride themselves on building a community that is “diverse, open, and inclusive. Dworkoski claims that these specific values are what attracted her to enroll at the University as a freshman. However, she expressed her disappointment at the presence of Chick-Fil-A on the NYU campus, stating that “maintaining a contract with an anti-gay vendor like Chick-Fil-A undermines what makes this university so great.” The petition also referred to the decision recently made by the NYU Student Senators Council that affirmed the school's right to remove vendors that violate human or labor rights and referenced a quote made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”
On 3 November 2011, NYU’s Student Senators Council (SSC) voted in favor of keeping the Chick-Fil-A franchise on NYU’s campus in a 19 to 4 vote. However, although the vote was conducted in November of 2011, the SSC only notified the student body months later in early March, 2012. In an email sent to NYU’s student body, Albert Cotugno, chair of the SSC, wrote that “there is a fundamental difference between personal boycott and institutional prohibition. To ban any entity from campus for ideological reasons is, in most every case, to limit freedom of expression.” The decision was met with much controversy that garnered national headlines. Whitney Coulson, a council member who was among the dissenting voters, defended her decision, claiming that she “voted for a Chick-Fil-A ban because it’s a civil right issue, and not a matter of freedom of expression. By allowing the continued existence of this franchise on campus, New York University is participating in heterosexist business practices.” The petition started by Dworkoski had garnered over 11,000 signatures since she launched it in January of 2012. However, SSC had already voted on the decision to keep the Chick-Fil-A on campus by the time Dworkoski presented the petition to the Student Senate.
Students protested the SSC decision by holding an anti-Chick-Fil-A demonstration during the Student Senators Council meeting on 1 March, 2012. Although her petition was rejected by the SSC, Dworkoski continued to argue that keeping the Chick-Fil-A on campus violated the university’s non-discrimination policy. A small number of unaffiliated students appeared at the demonstration in support of Chick-Fil-A. One NYU student, with a Chick-Fil-A sandwich in his hand, proudly stated “I love gay rights and I’m not anti-gay. I’m just pro-chicken.” Another held a sign that read “Chicken Tastes Better than Equality.”
The NYU SSC released a statement later that afternoon reaffirming their decision to keep Chick-Fil-A on campus.