Chick-fil-A controversy fizzles on campus
Published: Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 23:08
Over the summer two petitions surfaced among the USM community, one in favor to remove and one in favor to keep the Chick-fil-A on campus at Seymour’s in the R.C. Cook Union, though neither has formally been submitted to the university. The petitions came after national controversy related to a statement made by Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy regarding his beliefs against gay marriage.
The first petition, created by USM student Andy Bearden, aspires to remove Chick-fil-A from its campus location.
“Remove the extremely anti-equality Chick-fil-A from our campus,” Bearden said in a calling card to his petition.
“The University of Southern Miss prides itself on being a culturally diverse and inclusive community supportive of all individuals. The university has even taken the opportunity to make this known through the nondiscrimination policy,” Bearden said in the document.
The policy Bearden refers to states, “The University of Southern Mississippi offers to all persons equal access to educational, programmatic and employment opportunities without regard to age, sex, sexual orientation, religion, race, color, national origin, Vietnam era veteran status or disability status.”
The second petition, created by Ryan Kelly, director of External Relations of the College of Health, aims for the antithesis.
While Kelly would not comment directly, his desire was for supporters of the restaurant to sign the petition to make known that there were divisions of the university that supported Cathy and Chick-fil-A.
Jim Coll, chief communication officer at USM, said though university officials knew of both petitions, neither was ever formally presented for consideration.
“The university is aware of the online petition started by a student and is also aware of the support for Chick-fil-A from many of its constituents,” Coll said.
Roughly a month after each petition made its debut, controvery erupted on the social networking scene. Now both have dwindled to a halt.
Bearden’s petition to remove the restaurant at latest has received 718 of 15,000 desired signatures. Kelly’s petition evoked less of a response, receiving 592 signatures, but it only asked for 1,000.
Supporters of Chick-fil-A and Kelly’s petition are drawing greatly from the argument that their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion are being infringed upon.
“I believe in freedom of speech,” Chick-fil-A consumer and psychology major Zach Knight said. “You have the right to believe what you want to believe. Buy the products, not the politics.”
Staunching this argument are members of the Gay Straight Alliance on campus and supporters of Bearden’s petition.
“Cathy is entitled to his own opinion,” GSA council leader Amber Hammons said. “We’re not trying to take that from him. We don’t support his involvement with and donations to anti-gay organizations and it has been that way for years…not just since he made those comments publicly.”
According to Bearden, some supporters of the petition have also come under fire because of their outspoken support of the movement.
“A faculty member that doesn’t want to be named was putting their full support behind my cause told me one day that she didn’t want to support this publicly anymore because she had received numerous threatening emails,” Bearden said.
Even if both petitions pull in as many signatures as they want and are presented to the university, there is a business end to the situation that better explains the relationship between Chick-fil-A and the university that may be the ultimate deciding factor in the fate of the restaurant.
“The University of Southern Mississippi has outsourced its food service operations through a long-term contract with the Aramark Corporation,” Coll said. “Chick-Fil-A is one of ten different retail-dining options available on campus. Aramark provides dining services on more than six hundred college campuses nationwide, including five public universities in Mississippi.”