This past week, Duke University announced that as part of a major campus renovation, it would not be renewing its contract with the fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A, which currently operates an on-campus location. As an advocate for the LGBT community and Co-President of Duke's undergraduate LGBT student group Blue Devils United, you'd think I would be ecstatic at the news. Instead, I'm disappointed, and here's why: despite multiple appeals to the administration and calls for the removal of Chick-Fil-A in the Duke Chronicle, Duke's decision to remove Chick-Fil-A from campus was made without any consideration of Chick-Fil-A's discriminatory corporate practices. Furthermore, in an interview with the Chronicle, Associate Vice President of Housing and Dining Rick Johnson called the recent controversy around Chick-Fil-A's anti-LGBT corporate policies a "moot point."
Well, Mr. Johnson, I have to say that I disagree. Calling Chick-Fil-A's anti-LGBT corporate policies "moot" not only denigrates Duke's vibrant LGBT community, but casts Duke as an institution that is incapable of defending its values. We have a responsibility to look critically at the companies, businesses, and organizations we support, and waving off considerations about Chick-Fil-A's anti-LGBT policies as "moot" not only denies our responsibility to the LGBT community, but also denies our responsibility to ethical business practices more holistically.
I'd like to put some perspective on just how hurtful Chick-Fil-A's anti-gay corporate policies are. Over the past decade, Chick-Fil-A has given approximately $5 million dollars to groups working against marriage equality through its philanthropic arm, the WinShape Foundation. If we put this number in the context of North Carolina, the state where Duke makes its home, we can see just how un-moot $5 million can be. This past May, North Carolina passed an amendment to its state constitution that banned all legal recognition for same-sex couples. During the long campaign leading up to the vote, Vote For Marriage NC, the main group campaigning in favor of the amendment, raised approximately $1.2 million in order to pass the measure. If we do a little basic math, we're able to truly put the magnitude of Chick-Fil-A's contributions to anti-equality organizations in context. With the $5 million that Chick-Fil-A has donated to anti-equality organizations across the past decade, those organizations could make legal recognition of same-sex relationships unconstitutional in four more states like NC. Does that seem like a moot point to you?
Duke University and universities across the country need to step it up, and there are some who have: Davidson College in North Carolina got rid of Chick-Fil-A this August, citing their firm commitment "to building an inclusive community that serves each member of our student body" as a primary motivation behind the decision. St. Mary's College of Maryland stopped serving Chick-Fil-A almost a year ago, following a student government resolution that called for its removal on the basis of discriminatory corporate practices. But these universities only represent a drop in the bucket--there are countless other universities across the country that have ties with Chick-Fil-A. If students and administrators at these universities don't make their voices heard, Chick-Fil-A will continue to campaign against the rights of same-sex couples and individuals throughout the nation.
By remaining neutral in regards to Chick-Fil-A and refusing to issue a statement citing their corporate practices as part of the reason Chick-Fil-A was removed from campus, Duke has squandered a valuable opportunity not only to send a powerful message about equality, but to serve as an example for other universities around the country. Through not making a statement against Chick-Fil-A, Duke has sent a very different message: we are afraid to stand up against corporations who work against equality. As a university, we have stated that we "stand alongside the LGBT community in seeking a more equal world," but by refusing to condemn the discriminatory practices of Chick-Fil-A, where do we stand now?
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