Purdue released a statement on Sept. 13 confirming, after recent controversy, that it would bring a permanent Chick-fil-A to campus.
We weren’t necessarily surprised by that. But the message was swift, coming just four days after the University Senate discussed a resolution that would encourage Purdue to require commercial entities to comply with Purdue’s inclusion and non-discrimination policy.
And the message was aggressive.
Purdue is justified in introducing a restaurant that the ostensible majority of students want to eat at. However, it is important that those who oppose Chick-fil-A are heard and that opposing sides have a conversation. In a culture that’s becoming increasingly polarized and tribalistic — which Purdue President Mitch Daniels denounced in his 2018 commencement speech — it’s more important than ever to actively listen and try to understand where the other side might be coming from.
The University may care deeply about the concerns of LGBTQ students, but its statement shows little evidence that the community’s concerns about Chick-fil-A were valued or considered when the final decision was made.
Chick-fil-A first broke into local news and conversation when the Lafayette restaurant introduced a pop-up serving location in Krach Leadership Center in October 2018. That same semester, Purdue Student Government passed a resolution supporting the presence of a permanent Chick-fil-A restaurant on campus.
Chick-fil-A’s founders and its current CEO, Dan Cathy, have faced controversy for statements opposing same-sex marriage and for donating millions of dollars to anti-LGBTQ organizations like the Marriage and Family Foundation and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, according to an investigation by LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Matters. In 2017, ThinkProgress reported that the Chick-Fil-A Foundation also donated almost $2 million to various organizations that have a history of promoting anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and practices.
The PSG resolution, which was passed in October 2018 with a 13-12 vote, was controversial both within and outside of PSG. Senators debated PSG’s support of the restaurant during a December 2018 meeting, according to previous Exponent reporting. Purdue LGBTQ Center Director Lowell Kane said then he had heard from students who had concerns regarding the restaurant and felt PSG could have done more to understand constituents’ feelings.
At the meeting, senators also debated the methodology behind a survey PSG conducted in September and October 2018 to accumulate students’ opinions. According to one of the senators, the survey wasn’t created using PSG’s official mechanism and had been disseminated by individual members of PSG.
Petitions went around last year both in support of and protesting a Chick-fil-A restaurant on campus. Then in July, construction documents were filed showing that Purdue was planning to install a Chick-fil-A and a Jersey Mike’s in the new Third Street Suites North dorm.
PSG President Jo Boileau said at September’s University Senate meeting that other LGBTQ students he’s spoken to have mentioned concerns.
The same day Purdue released its statement, PSG senators Zach Stewart and Joshua David released one reiterating PSG’s support of Chick-fil-A. They emphasized Boileau’s opinions do not reflect those of PSG’s and that, according to the 2018 survey and one petition, a majority of students support the restaurant on campus. They cited Papa John’s, Subway and Jimmy John’s as other companies that remain popular food options at Purdue even though their executives have taken political and religious positions many students disagree with.
In its statement, Purdue also referenced Chick-fil-A as a “long-requested” dining option, the absence of which would deprive thousands of people.
Maybe the majority of students do support a Chick-fil-A restaurant on campus. Does that render the concerns of LGBTQ students invalid? Was it necessary to “dispel any impression that Purdue would ever seriously consider such an action” as banning Chick-fil-A, and by extension, dispel any impression that Purdue would seriously consider the stances and experiences of those who are marginalized? Of those who say they can feel unsafe or unwelcome on campus?
At which point does aggressive support of the status quo or of the majority become harmful to an inclusive climate? Or even a climate that promotes active, respectful dialogue?
Purdue says in its equal-opportunity, equal-access and affirmative-action policy that it promotes the exchange of ideas. It says that it “fosters tolerance, sensitivity, understanding and mutual respect among its members.” Daniels has long been a supporter of the rights of people to speak their minds even if those around them vehemently disagree.
If Purdue seeks to promote a climate that encourages differing opinions and the exchange of ideas, and if it seeks to combat the polarization and tribalism currently threatening productive discussion nationwide, then it should at least make clear it considered the experiences of the University’s LGBTQ students before it made its final decision.
The speed with which its statement was released and the language it employed indicate otherwise.
PSG affirmed its commitment Wednesday to the inclusion-policy resolution the University Senate will vote on in October. Chick-fil-A will still come to Purdue in fall 2020. In the meantime, we hope to further a frank and balanced conversation whether Purdue enters it or not.
This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board, which consists of the editor-in-chief, managing editor, campus editor, assistant campus editor, city editor, assistant sports editor, assistant photo editor and graphics editor.