A Chick-fil-A franchise will remain on Richard Stockton College’s campus, but the college will also do more to address inclusion, President Herman J. Saatkamp told the Student Senate on Tuesday.
Saatkamp said he made the decision to keep Chick-fil-A on the Galloway Township campus because the company stopped funding anti-gay groups and the national Campus Pride organization dropped its campaign against them. He said Student Senate officers participated in the decision process, which included calls with Chick-fil-A and Shane Windmeyer, founder of Campus Pride, a national organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender college students.
Windmeyer posted a lengthy blog on the Huffington Post website Monday titled “Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A” in which he explained that while he and the Chick-fil-A president still do not agree on many issues, he is no longer opposing the company.
In November, after months of debate and discussion, the Stockton Student Senate voted 14-10 to ask the college to cancel its contract with the franchise, citing corporate donating practices that students said conflicted with the college’s value statement. Among the groups the company had supported were the Family Research Council, Eagle Forum and Exodus International, Christian groups that promote the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.
Saatkamp said Tuesday if the donations had not stopped, his decision might have been different.
“When I received the resolution, I thought we would end up following the recommendation,” he said.
But after doing the research and noting the change in policy by the company and Campus Pride, Saatkamp said he valued the willingness of both sides to change.
As the college’s Black History Month program kicked off in the nearby theater, Saatkamp recalled marching in Memphis in 1968 after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and how many people had changed their minds about civil rights, which led to a nation that changed.
“That does not mean we are not concerned,” Saatkamp said of concerns by Campus Pride group members that they are treated differently. He said he would like to develop programs that encourage inclusion.
“Stockton has always been good about diversity,” he said, noting the increase in minority students. “What we have not been as good at is inclusion, that we all feel part of the campus.”
Dean of Students Pedro Santana said the college is looking into starting a chapter of the National Coalition Building Institute, an international non-profit dedicated to the eliminating racism and other forms of oppression.
After a lengthy and robust debate in November, students were largely silent on Tuesday’s decision. None spoke at the meeting, and the franchise did a brisk business during the dinner hour. Students surveyed said they wanted the franchise to stay because they like the food.
A student survey in the fall had found that 66 percent of respondents wanted Chick-fil-A to remain on campus and 69 percent eat there.
Student Senate President A.J. Vervoort said there was some early reaction when the press release about the decision went campuswide Monday, but sometimes students are nervous about speaking in front of the president. Vervoot also said once students understood the reasons for the decision there was less opposition.
Student Senate Vice President David Lamando said while he supported keeping the franchise on campus, he personally would not eat there. He was disappointed that the opposition had not attended the meeting, he said.
“Some of them said they would be here,” he said. “But as long as (Cathy) is no longer donating to those groups, the company has every right to be here.”
Vervoort said he sees the decision as a win-win situation because it did raise the issue of inclusion on campus. He said if the company had not changed its funding, he would have fought more to remove it.
Maribeth Capelli chair of the Student Welfare Committee, said she believes most students just accepted the decision and moved on.
“I did expect some students here,” she said. “But I think at this point we’re over it. The president did a good job explaining, so even if people are disappointed with the decision, they understand it.”
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