Students at Rider University last spring supported opening a Chick-fil-A on campus, but this fall they were given a new survey with their first choice conspicuously absent.
Rider’s administrators had removed Chick-fil-A as an option after a "difficult assessment of competing interests," in which the university found the chicken restaurant was "widely perceived to be in opposition to the LGBTQ+ community." This charge stems from Chick-fil-A’s late founder S. Truett Cathy and his son, CEO Dan Cathy, supporting "the biblical definition of the family unit."
Rider’s president and vice president for student affairs wrote in a statement that it would violate "our values of inclusion" to allow a Chick-fil-A franchise to sell chicken on Rider’s campus.
"The choices in this situation, like in so many others, were imperfect," wrote Rider president Gregory G. Dell’Omo and VP for student affairs Leanna Fenneberg. "They challenged us to reflect on our values and consider what kind of community we want to provide for those who live and learn at Rider University. Ultimately, we decided to lean in the direction of creating a welcoming environment where differences can be appreciated and where each individual can expect to experience dignity and respect."
Administrators at the New Jersey university appeared to anticipate the charge that they are in effect discriminating against religious people by citing beliefs as a reason to ban Chick-fil-A. They said, however, that exclusion was not the "spirit" of their decision.
"We understand that some may view the decision as being just another form of exclusion. We want to be clear that this was not the spirit in which the decision was made," they wrote. "We fully acknowledge an organization’s right to hold these beliefs, just as we acknowledge the right for individuals in our community and elsewhere to also personally hold the same beliefs."
Despite their decision to come down strongly on one side of the discussion, the administrators maintain they want students to have a healthy dialogue about sexual issues:
In many ways, this issue is one that goes beyond our decision and touches on a complex conversation taking place throughout the country. We believe this is a conversation worth having, and we encourage dialogue to take place where many individuals with different perspectives can engage one another respectfully. As an institution of higher learning, we believe strongly in the open exchange of ideas and positions — especially around a complex issue such as this one.
They concluded their letter by saying the Rider’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion would be holding a forum to share their feelings and "grow from this experience."
Chick-fil-A made statement to NBC News after the administration’s decision, saying the company focuses on food, service, and hospitality rather than politics.
"We have no policy of discrimination against any group, and we do not have a political or social agenda," a spokesman said. "More than 120,000 people from all different backgrounds and beliefs represent the Chick-fil-A brand."
"Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena," the spokesman said.