Boise State Touts Diversity, Must Decide If Campus Chick-Fil-A Fits In

Jul 31, 2012

Fast food restaurant Chick-fil-A is the target of protests and boycotts across the country. The company’s CEO recently angered gay rights activists with statements opposed to same sex marriage and his financial support for anti-gay marriage groups. Chick-fil-A is a privately owned company but what happens when that private company meets a public institution?

The Chick-fil-A in the Boise State University Student Union Building is doing brisk business these days. It’s one of the few things open during the summer. But Ryan Gregg won’t eat there and he’ll ask his friends not to. That’s as far as Boise State’s student body president is willing to go right now. Gregg says that’s got him some criticism from other gay students.

“Students say how can you be the first openly gay president and not rail against this." Gregg answers, the Chick-fil-A in the SUB is there because students chose it in a survey. He says students must decide what comes next.

The mission statement for the student union says it’s “a forum for unifying a diverse campus community.” The document also talks about “a commitment to…cultural diversity.” The question on the Student Union Director’s mind is: should a place that touts diversity - align itself with a company that does not share those values? Director Jack Rahmann says when school starts, his team will meet to discuss what, if anything should be done about Chick-fil-A. Ryan Gregg says students will likely be doing that as well.

“And if students overwhelmingly say we want this off our campus, I’m more than happy to present that to administrators," Gregg says. "If students say we should keep them here, then that’s also something I’m prepared to say. I’m certainly not shy about my own opinions, but I’m very serious about being a steward of the student voice.”

A spokesman for the university says the school will listen to the voices of students, faculty and staff on the issue, but adds administrators don’t usually decide what restaurants to have on campus, it’s up to Aramark. That’s the company that runs Boise State’s food service. Aramark also touts its commitment to diversity. Its website prominently displays awards for that commitment, including the title: one of the world’s most ethical companies.  

Boise State’s Chick-fil-A is not the only one in Idaho. There is one just outside Idaho Falls. Two more are under construction in Boise and another in Meridian. In some cities mayors are speaking out on the controversy. A spokesman for Meridian mayor Tammy de Weerd says that city won’t take a stance, it’s up to consumers to decide how to react to Chick-fil-A. Boise Mayor Dave Bieter had a similar take.

"This is an issue that Boise residents must decide on their own. In my position as Mayor I have no legal authority to accept or deny the construction of a new restaurant based on the personal beliefs of the business's owners or representatives," Bieter writes.

"We are fortunate to live in an open society that allows for free speech -- no matter how objectionable -- and for the freedom of individuals to frequent only the businesses they choose. The two new Boise locations are in compliance with City laws and have been approved by the City's planning department; the success or failure of these restaurants will depend entirely on the level of support they receive from the public." - Boise Mayor Dave Bieter