University of Toledo responds to Chick-fil-A with mixed emotions

On Friday, Aug. 18 a new dining option, Chick-fil-A, opened on the University of Toledo’s campus. The restaurant's hours during school time are from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. It is currently located in the Student Union, across from Steak ‘n Shake on the first floor. 


The restaurant offers both Dining and Rocket Dollars as a means to pay. They are not capable of doing online orders or taking orders by way of Tapingo, the app that allows you to preorder food from various locations on campus and then pick it up when it’s ready.


The restaurant came as a response, according to Gary Casteel, the resident district manager of dining and hospitality services at UT, to a report done by an independent food services consulting firm that UT hired for the 2015-16 academic year. 


The firm reported, according to Casteel, that participants expressed interest in chicken dining options, with “70.1 of the respondents preferring Chick-fil-A.”


“In response to the 2015 survey, the top two choices, Chick-fil-A and Steak ‘n Shake were rolled out,” Casteel said. “CFA received 63.9 percent and Steak ‘n Shake 42.9 percent of votes from the campus dining 2015 survey.”


However, the addition of the restaurant is not without controversy, stemming mainly from a statement made by the chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A in 2012 that pitted the company against same-sex marriage. 


According to Alexandria Hetzler, a fourth-year organizational leadership and management student, as well as the former president of LGBTQIA organization on campus then called Spectrum, the concern is not only the statement made five years ago, but also the continued support by the company to fund anti-LGBT organizations. 


“Myself and other queer and ally students have expressed that we do not want to give our money to Chick-fil-A, but dining options are limited,” Hetzler said. 


With the first week of classes still going on, Student Government has been prevented from taking a stance on the issue, according to speaker of the senate Kyle Zapadka. 


However, Zapadka confirmed that a SG dining survey last year did show interest in more “American food” options and that so far, he, nor the president of SG Jimmy Russell, have heard of any complaints.


“All feedback has been positive, with many guests already making return visits,” Casteel said. 


However, according to the chair of the women and gender studies department, Sharon Barnes, the LGBT advisory board that Hetzler and Barnes sit on together, met with Lawrence Kelley, the executive VP for finance and administration and CFO, with their concerns about the restaurant. 


“There was definitely reaching out after,” Barnes said. “I was very uncomfortable with it because it felt like negotiating after the fact.”  


Hetzler said she met with Willie McKether, the vice president of diversity and inclusion, about her concerns after the signing of the contract as well. 


“It’s a restaurant with a long and ongoing history of hostility to LGBTQIA-plus people, so that's my objection. It really sends a message to the queer community, and I think there are other good chicken sandwiches to be had,” Barnes said.


Both Barnes and Hetzler confirmed that neither the LGBT advisory board, nor the student LGBTQIA organization, then called Spectrum, were asked to weigh in on the decision, or informed of the possibility of Chick-fil-A coming to UT. 


“The first time any of us heard about Chick-fil-A coming to campus was after the contract had been signed, and we heard it through peers and not from the university,” Hetzler said, “which feels shady and like UT knew there would be some backlash.”


Barnes said that she was also concerned about the way the contract was signed over the summer. They felt that the decision was not inclusive or thoughtful of the LGBTQIA community. 


“It wasn’t any of the things the university claims to be, and I believe wants to be in terms of inclusive and welcoming to diversity,” Barnes said. 


One possible remedy brought up in the first meeting with Kelley, according to Barnes, was the possibility of anti-discrimination signage posted at the restaurant. 


“I feel like it is more of a band-aid solution. It does not make up for UT quietly signing a contract,” Hetzler said. 


Both Barnes and Hetzler agreed that they did not believe that posting signs was enough. Currently, no such sign is posted at the location.


“Well if they didn’t do their due diligence to see how the Chick-fil-A would be received by my community in this case, I think vetting an organization is always a good idea,” Barnes said. “I think they have a one-year contract, and I hope they don’t renew it.”  


According to Casteel, as a response the public scrutinizing the restaurant after the comments made by the COO, the university researched the company’s hiring policies and commitment to equality and decided to go forward with the decision.  


“Aramark, which will operate the restaurant, also has a strong commitment to diversity, which is in line with UT’s commitment to being an inclusive and welcoming campus,” Casteel said, adding that in 2015 Aramark was awarded the Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality, and that they received a 100 percent on the 2016 Corporate Equality Index. 


Speaking on his personal opinion, and not as a Student Government official, Zapadka said that he feels that the company is not reflective of one's opinions. 


“The staggering line outside Chick-fil-A speaks for itself: Students want this company on campus,” Zapadka said. “This idea that Chick-fil-A in its entirety is anti-LGBTQIA is ridiculous, considering they serve anybody no matter their sexual orientation.” 


Barnes said that, in her opinion, while specific franchise owners may not represent that belief, profits from the organization still fund anti-LGBTQIA organizations. 


“I think that people can make that case that it’s food; it’s not politics. You can make that case, but that is not a case that is convincing to me,” Barnes said.

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