The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Contentious chicken: GV Chick-fil-A plan highlights lack of communication with community

GVL / Bethann Long

The plans to construct a Chick-fil-A on the Grand Valley State University Allendale campus have caught many community members off guard. The plan to put Chick-fil-A in the Crave dining hall, located in Kirkhof Center, the same building as the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource, has become a contentious issue. 

Before establishing the Chick-fil-A contract, there was no communication between GVSU’s Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and key campus community members like the LGBT Resource Center. Now, numerous individuals are actively speaking out to stop Chick-fil-A from becoming a campus dining option. 

Many members of the GVSU community are frustrated, angry and concerned about the lack of transparency with the decision. Some feel it reflects the larger issue and disconnect between the decisions of the SLT and the wants and needs of community members.

GVL / Bethann Long

Chick-fil-A’s history is riddled with anti-LGBTQ connections, as the company formerly donated to charities including the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA)- organizations that “have taken controversial stands on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.” Even though the company cut its ties, no longer donating to these organizations since 2018, Chick-fil-A continues to be connected with anti-LGBTQ decisions through its business owners- the Cathy family. Dan Cathy, the Chick-fil-A CEO, made comments in 2012 against marriage equality and his son, Andrew Truett Cathy, is Chick-fil-A’s current CEO. 

The information about Chick-fil-A’s anti-LGBTQ connections is widely known and many people, especially in the LGBTQ community, oppose the company. This has led many people to question what conversations with the greater community were had about the GVSU Chick-fil-A plan. Many LGBTQ leaders on campus said there were none. 

“How we got here is just as problematic as the chicken,” said Kyle Felker, the chair of the LGBT Faculty and Staff Association (FSA) Steering Committee and senior library application developer. “Why wasn’t a communication plan followed? Why weren’t we involved? How did this get so far?”

News of the Chick-fil-A plan was largely surfacing upon the closure of Subway, which is the intended spot for the renovations, toward the start of the Winter 2024 semester, although the plans began well before then. The Use and Finance Bi‐Annual Reporting Form that reported on three projects at GVSU over the period of July 2023 to December 2023 outlines the timeline for the Chick-fil-A project at the University. The document lists that the “Project Timeline” to add a Chick-fil-A to Kirkhof Center would begin in November 2023 and conclude in August 2024.

Campus community members heard rumors of the plan at various times. For instance, Felker said he first heard of the plan on Feb. 22 when someone reached out to him to see what action FSA was taking against it. He got confirmation of the plan officially from Jenny Hall-Jones, vice president for student affairs, on Feb. 26. This was situated well into the project timeline, as it was already underway.

Similarly, Keigh-Cee Bell, chair of the Administrative Professionals (AP) Social Justice Subcommittee and the director of tutoring at GVSU learned about the plan the first week of March. 

The AP executive committee has monthly question-answer meetings with SLT members. At the March 5 meeting, Bell asked Greg Sanial, vice president for finance and administration/CFO and treasurer for the GVSU Board of Trustees and the Grand Valley University Foundation, if the rumor was true and he confirmed it to be true. 

“I am a member of the LGBTQ community, and so when I came to Grand Valley, I’ve been here for about two years, it was really exciting for me to see pride merchandise in the bookstore with GV on it,” Bell said. “So then hearing about a Chick-fil-A coming to campus, it actually kind of really hurt.” 

Additionally, the LGBT Resource Center addressed that neither the LGBT Center nor Inclusion and Equity “signed off” on the Chick-fil-A plan, citing responses from Jesse Bernal, vice president of inclusion and equity, and Director of the LGBT Center DL McKinney.

GVL / Bethann Long

Leading up to this decision, it is unclear how SLT decided Chick-fil-A would best reflect the community’s wants and needs. It seems, from the data Sanial released, that the decision to bring a Chick-fil-A was based on two surveys conducted in 2019 and 2022.

The 2019 survey asked, “Of the following chicken brands, from which are you likely to purchase a meal if offered on campus?” The choices included Chick-fil-A, No Preference, KFC, Popeye’s and Raising Cane’s. 350 out of the total 542 responses answered Chick-fil-A.

The 2022 survey said, “Please list your favorite three to five fast food or casual dining restaurants.” This survey received 633 total responses with Chick-fil-A being the answer receiving 164, the most responses.

Neither survey provided a comprehensive questionnaire.

The lack of updated and accurate, questions related to campus dining seems to be reflected in the various reactions to the current Chick-fil-A plan.

The lack of conversations between numerous facets of the GVSU community and administration seem to have stemmed from the failure of the SLT to initiate their “communication plan,” according to Felker.

According to Felker, in a meeting with the SLT on April 4, the SLT said “they want to go back to their original engagement plan for deciding whether CFA should be on campus.” Essentially, SLT would invite Chick-fil-A executives to GVSU to interact with various groups of students, which Felker said SLT would start the week following the April 4 meeting. 

“The organizers and I are not especially thrilled by this,” Felker said. “We feel like what’s been missed in the process so far is time and space for queer voices to articulate how they feel about this and the effect even having this discussion is having on us. They seemed to indicate that they will make that space, but it’s not clear to us yet when or how.”

GVL / Bethann Long

Since LGBTQ leaders on campus have learned of the Chick-fil-A plan, many avenues of action have been taken including spreading awareness about the project, vocalizing the lack of involvement between SLT and LGBTQ groups and taking action to stop the project. This includes communication with the Student Senate, filing and advocating for others to fill out Campus Climate Concerns and meeting with the SLT.

In a statement given to the FSA leadership, the SLT said there are three options with how the Chick-fil-A project will proceed: continuing with the construction of Chick-fil-A in Kirkhof Center, moving the Chick-fil-A project to another part of campus, or bringing in a food venue other than Chick-fil-A. 

Many activists against Chick-fil-A are concerned about the potential course of the project, especially with the financial investment GVSU has put in. The total Chick-fil-A project expense of approximately 1.3 million dollars will be funded out of the University reserve.  

“You can find a university’s true values by looking at where they put their money, and this just shows how they truly feel about us (the LGBTQ community),” said Ellen Wilson, a fourth-year GVSU student who is a member of the LGBTQ community. “Even more so, to put the CFA in such a central location on campus, I just think about the impact it will have on the campus culture. The next time there are ‘bible’ preachers at the clocktower, they can just run inside to CFA and grab their little bible-inscripted cups.” 

Similarly, Felker said the University’s decision to bring a Chick-fil-A to campus without engaging with the campus community on their opinions reflects wider issues relating to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on campus and SLT’s disconnect from the needs of minority students.

“Maybe chicken is not worth it,” Felker said. “Is this (Chick-fil-A) what you want to be spending your money and political capital on? It’s not a good look.” 

He noted that GVSU “has a raft of DEI related issues, very serious DEI related issues.” Felker said this is reflected in recent actions from student activism on campus, including students of color demanding campus support from leadership and “queer students” voicing concerns and challenges with maintaining minority faculty and staff.

GVL / Bethann Long

Student reactions and community opinions about the Chick-fil-A plan are highly varied. Opinions on the decision are often based on a social standpoint and feelings that other food options would be more wanted or beneficial. 

“I think that not inviting CFA would be the best option because it would keep a hateful company off our campus,” Wilson said. “Unfortunately, people do love CFA, and they are a very powerful presence, so I am sure that they will not back down now.”

Further mixed discourse around the Chick-fil-A decision was seen on Yik Yak, an app that allows users to post anonymously to a board specific to their college campus. A comment on a post, which had a screenshot of the LGBT Resource Center’s announcement of the “halting” of Chick-fil-A said, “another members of the the lgbt community and i love chick fil a, i think they should replace erbs and gerbs (Erbert’s and Gerbert’s) with panera. i had it once and it sucked ass, we already have another sub shop on campus anyways at blue (connection).”

Another comment on the same post said, “I don’t care for chik fil a and Panera has vegetarian options.” 

Similar to this sentiment, based on opinions of Laker Food Co.’s offerings, Bell noted their personal feelings and conversations with students about wanting healthier and accessible food options on campus.

“Food has been kind of a contentious thing on this campus. We need more of it. We need better options for everybody. We’re taking away Subway, which you know, it’s fine, but at least it was a healthy option. It was a vegetarian-friendly option. It was a vegan-friendly option,” Bell said. “In the tutoring and reading center, we have 90 student tutors plus all of the students coming in every week (for) their appointments and more often than not, I hear, ‘I just want a healthy food option.’” 

The Grand Valley Lanthorn requested to speak with SLT including Sanial and Craig Wieschhorster, associate vice president for business and finance. The Lanthorn received a statement from Stacie Behler, ​​vice president & chief public affairs and communications officer, on behalf of the SLT. 

“At this time, what I can share is that Grand Valley will spend the coming months fully engaging with the GVSU community to hear their thoughts, concerns and questions about Chick-Fil-A as a dining option on its Allendale campus. Next steps will be determined after those discussions are held,” the statement said. 

It is yet to be seen what the Chick-fil-A plans will look like going forward, with no decisive response as conversations and action continue to be navigated and voiced by LGBT leadership, the GVSU community and SLT. 

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About the Contributor
Elizabeth Schanz
Elizabeth Schanz is the Lanthorn's Editor in Chief for the 2023-2024 school year. She previously worked as Arts and Entertainment editor, News editor and a staff writer for the news section throughout her three years at the Lanthorn. Elizabeth is a multimedia journalism and dance major with a minor in history. In her free time she likes to paint, go out for sushi and loves hanging out with her dog Sadie and cat Claire. She is also part of the Fredrik Meijer Honors College and Momentum dance club.
Graduating Winter 2024
Major: Multimedia Journalism and Dance
Minor: History