Joash Mencias // News Editor
Fried chicken sandwiches. Waffle fries. Sweet tea.
These once uncommon Southern food items may become standard fare right in the heart of College of DuPage.
Chick-fil-A, the ubiquitous chicken eatery once only found in the Bible Belt, may broaden its reach on campus as it has around the nation with over 1700 locations, including more than a dozen in the Chicagoland.
Sodexo, the food company managing food service in our cafeteria, is looking to open a licensed location right inside the cafeteria and may be opening next semester.
However, after the chain was thrust into a negative ongoing same-sex marriage dialogue last year, the prospects of bringing the restaurant on campus has sparked debate among some students.
With a variety of opinions among the student body, the questions of Chick-fil-A coming to the college and the company’s reputation among LGBT people have no definite answers.
Chick-fil-A at COD
According to Lynn Konicek, COD’s general manager for Sodexo, Chick-fil-A would take the place of Grill 155 as soon January, assuming the Board of Trustees renews Sodexo’s contract with the college.
If Chick-fil-A were to open at COD, core menu items like the chain’s signature chicken sandwiches would most likely be available, however a COD location would not offer the entire menu, Konicek said.
As for the demand for a Chick-fil-A at the college, Konicek cited the successes of the eatery in at least 50 other college campus locations nationwide.
“I believe that the fact that CFA has a quality product, excellent customer service and just from the response of what’s gone on in other schools across the country, it’s been a well-received venue.”
While Konicek recognizes the controversy surrounding Chick-fil-A, she justified Chick-fil-A’s values as consistent with Sodexo’s commitment to inclusiveness and diversity.
She also attempted to appease some who may be upset about Chick-fil-A by citing the chain’s focus on customer service.
“While I can understand the initial feelings, if further investigation is done they will see that Chick-fil-A is in the restaurant business, serving guests and sharing some of the proceeds with our local communities. They are not, nor ever have been, interested in engaging in political or social issues arena.”
Origins of controversy
Despite claims that Chick-fil-A has not waded into the political and social sphere, the chain’s controversy over same-sex marriage has had political and cultural implications that still resonate in the debate at COD.
Part of the dispute began in 2011, when Equality Matters, a LGBT watchdog organization, reported Chick-fil-A’s foundation called WinShape had donated almost $2 million to supposed anti-gay groups like Exodus International and Focus on the Family.
However, the company was publicly thrown into the conversation in the summer of 2012, after its president and now CEO Dan Cathy said the following in an interview on “The Ken Coleman Show:”
“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’. I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”
Cathy later affirmed his comments with a published interview in the “Biblical Recorder.”
The corporate leader’s stance generated an onslaught of both supportive and negative reaction among the public and government officials.
While the mayors of urban centers like Boston and San Francisco expressed disapproval of Chick-fil-A, the media centered in on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and alderman Joe Moreno. In response to Cathy’s comments, Moreno led a push banning a new Chick-fil-A location downtown. Emanuel soon supported Moreno, stating “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values.”
Many others supported the chicken chain in response to the controversy. Hundreds of thousands lined up at locations across the country for Chick-fil-A appreciation day on Aug. 1, 2012. According to ABC News reports, participants said not only were they a fan of the chicken sandwiches, but they also supported Cathy’s beliefs on gay marriage.
Chick-fil-A responded to the controversy with a press release stating the company’s dedication to “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect.” The company also added, “going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”
In September of that year, various media reports and Moreno suggested Chick-fil-A had stopped donating to anti-gay groups and created a statement of respect for all customers including LGBT persons. However, Cathy refuted the company’s policy reversal in a coversation with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, which he posted on his website.
“I talked earlier today personally with Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick Fil-A about the new reports that Chick Fil-A had capitulated to demands of the supporters of same sex marriage. This is not true,” Huckabee wrote.
More than a year after the controversy, a new discourse has sprung up within the student body over the possibility of a Chick-fil-A on campus.
Bradley Setter, president of Pride Alliance, believes such a move goes against inclusiveness and diversity championed by Sodexo and the college.
“I believe Sodexo as a company is good, but the choice to bring Chick-fil-A’s ethics and values is a bad choice…but why are we going to promote a company that hates LGBT individuals?”
19 year-old Meaghan Tschetter, a photography and graphic design student, supports not only a location in the cafeteria but also Dan Cathy.
“Personally, I’m for the standards and beliefs of the president…And it’s not like he’s incorporating it into his business.”
Many other students stand in the middle of the debate.
23 year-old accounting student Jason Beckus, a supporter of marriage equality, sees both sides.
“It would be cool if they actually put one in here. It’s more variety…But I feel both sides of the argument…”
Alex Johnson, an 18 year-old music student, seems more apathetic towards the Chick-fil-A debate:
“I really like their chicken sandwiches. It would be a nice chance…But honestly I don’t think [the controversy] matters. Students are more out there for the food. They’re concerned more about the product than what they stand for.”
Many students like Johnson had an opinion on the Chick-fil-A debate, but admittedly did not know about the chain potentially arriving on campus.
Sam Ortega-Guerrero, president of Student Leadership Council, can cite Johnson as an example of the student body’s lack of knowledge about the chain’s prospects.
Ortega-Guerrero has voiced concern over a possibly controversial decision to bring Chick-fil-A to COD. He points to the lack of student input based on the inadequate amount of time.
“We as a student government have to take the perspective of the entire student body and we really haven’t had that opportunity thus far… I don’t think we want to take any decision as a whole until we have enough time to be able to gauge [campus opinion] properly.”
Ortega-Guerrero also notes, the demand for a Chick-fil-A at COD is unknown.
“I feel they are very much making the decision based on other things that have happened in other colleges with completely different demographics. Has Chick-fil-A succeeded in other colleges? Yes. Will it succeed in ours? How do you know if you haven’t asked our students if it’s going to succeed?”
Will Chick-fil-A pass?
Despite the varying opinions of the student body, the ultimate decision rests in the hands of the Board of Trustees.
Sodexo is expected to present a contract focused on the company’s relationship with College of DuPage, but also includes construction-related contracts to build a Chick-fil-A in the cafeteria. The contract is tentatively set for board approval during the Nov. 21 public meeting.
Whether or not Chick-fil-A ends up on campus, debate and questions will still linger. Could a fried chicken sandwich really represent something else? Should a company involve itself in politics and social issues and to what extent? Is the commotion around the chain unnecessary? Or does it signify something more in the civil rights issue of our time? Only time will tell.