By Nick Jacques, News Correspondent
Less than two weeks after announcing Northeastern was in talks to bring a Chick-fil-A to campus, university administrators announced the Georgia-based fast food chain would not be included in plans to renovate the Curry Student Center food court.
The decision came in response to votes denouncing the plan by both the Student Government Association (SGA) and Graduate Student Government (GSG). The proposal caused controversy on campus after students learned that Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy’s WinShape Foundation has donated millions of dollars to groups that lobby against gay marriage.
“We are very pleased with the outcome of Monday night’s senate resolution to exclude Chick-fil-A from the group of vendors considered for a soon-to-be-renovated space at Northeastern’s Curry Student Center,” Director of Marketing and Communications Renata Nyul said in a statement Tuesday.
SGA voted 31 to 5 on Monday to declare its disapproval of a Chick-fil-A on campus. GSG took similar action earlier that day.
In a statement Wednesday evening, Chick-fil-A spokesman Donald A. Perry expressed disappointment that Northeastern didn’t wait to hear from the company before making a decision.
In an email to The News, Perry said the company has no anti-gay agenda or intent, “We simply hold that the decision was too hasty, and our side was not fully represented. Our restaurant experience would be a great addition to your campus.”
The vote was brought up in the SGA meeting Monday as emergency business, which allowed the body to propose the resolution and vote on it in the same meeting. Normally, senators would have to wait until the next meeting.
According to SGA Executive Director of Communications Kelly Dwyer, the body raised the issue as emergency business because the administration wanted it resolved immediately. SGA’s executive board met with Northeastern Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Laura Wankel before Monday’s senate meeting, Dwyer said, and Wankel asked SGA to address the issue that night.
“We agreed that we weren’t comfortable with nine people, being the executive board, making the decision, so we did want to bring it to the senate,” Dwyer said.
The administration wanted to resolve the issue immediately in order to find a new vendor and to ensure renovation plans weren’t delayed, Nyul said.
The vote was tabled from the beginning of Monday night’s meeting until the open discussion portion later on, during which all undergraduate students could voice their opinions. SGA Executive Vice President Will Pett encouraged senators to contact their constituents during the meeting in order to get the word out because of the short notice.
“Luckily I was able to get in touch with the kids from NU Pride,” said SGA Elections Committee Chair Taylor Cotter, who wrote a letter to the editor in the Feb. 16 issue of The News voicing opposition to Chick-fil-A.
NU Pride, Northeastern’s LGBT advocacy group, became a strong voice against Chick-fil-A soon after the renovation plans were announced.
About a dozen students came to speak on the issue, most in opposition to Chick-fil-A.
“I really want our conscience to speak louder than our stomachs,” said Frank Marino, a junior human services and international affairs major, during the discussion.
Monday night’s vote and Tuesday’s subsequent announcement from the administration put to rest a controversy that brewed on campus for almost two weeks. Student criticism began in response to a Feb. 15 announcement from Wankel that the university planned to include Chick-fil-A in Curry this September.
Administrators based the choice of Chick-fil-A as a vendor on a student survey presented to SGA in spring 2008, in which 44 percent of students said they would rather have a Chick-fil-A in Ryder Hall to replace the Mondo Subs location in the building at the time. Forty percent were in favor of keeping the Mondo Subs and 16 percent selected “other.” The survey matched current vendors against potential replacements.
Ever since the announcement, SGA and GSG have been working with the administration to resolve the controversy. GSG’s executive board met with Wankel Feb. 20.
GSG President Margaret Keaveny said the group’s executive board voted to denounce the plan on Feb. 22. The full GSG senate voted 5-3, with one senator abstaining, to pass a non-binding resolution denouncing the plan Monday.
“The majority of senators felt, in light of Chick-fil-A’s financial support for groups advocating against gay rights and marriage, that it was not appropriate to invite Chick-fil-A onto campus,” Keaveny said.
“The walls blocking marriage equality are gradually tumbling down,” she added. Keaveny she was proud the administration “has taken the appropriate actions to ensure that Northeastern University will be on the right side of history.”
According to equalitymatters.org, an LGBT advocacy site, the WinShape Foundation donated more than $2.8 million to groups against gay marriage between 2003 and 2009. The site also reported that Chick-fil-A regularly supports the foundation, donating more $12.5 million in 2008 alone.
In his statement, Perry said these donations have been misrepresented, and the organizations in question are not “anti-gay.”
“Those monies have been labeled as ‘anti-gay’ because of the affiliation with faith-based organizations,” said Perry, citing a Feb. 27 column that appeared in Bowling Green University’s student paper The BG News. A similar debate is occurring at Bowling Green as well as many other universities across the country.
“The student governing body overwhelmingly selected the Chick-fil-A brand as an addition to its campus restaurant offerings,” Perry wrote.
Former SGA President Ryan Fox, who graduated in 2011, said the demand for Chick-fil-A was apparent in the survey’s comments section.
“A lot of the comments were ‘Chick-fil-A, Chick-fil-A, Chick-fil-A,’” Fox said in a Feb. 21 interview with The News. “We saw the passion there and people were crazy about it.”
Neither Fox, SGA nor the administration could locate these comments for The News.
The SGA executive board oversaw much of the process to bring Chick-fil-A to campus, but the full senate did not address the issue until Monday.
According to Keaveny, GSG had no role in the vendor selection process.
Fox, who was SGA President from 2009 to 2011, and Vice President for Student Services from 2008 to 2009, said SGA had believed Chick-fil-A stopped donating money to the controversial groups, based on a 2011 press release by Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy that said “[Chick-fil-A] will not champion any political agendas on marriage and family.”
In the same press release, Cathy also wrote, “We will continue to offer resources to strengthen marriage and family, anything else would be inconsistent with our purpose and belief in biblical principals.”
Members of SGA, GSG and administration said they were extremely satisfied with the ability of the three organizations to work together to resolve the issue.
In her statement on Tuesday, Nyul called the process “a testament to the great working relationship between the university administration, the Student Government Association, and the Graduate Student Government.”