The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Student Senate will ask the college president to consider dismissing Chick-fil-A from its campus.
The 27-member Senate voted 14-10, with two abstensions to send a letter of resolution to Stockton College President Herman J. Saatkamp asking Chick-fil-A to leave the campus in Atlantic County's Galloway Township. The Senate needed 14 votes for approval. Senate President AJ Vervoort abstains unless his vote is needed to break a tie.
According to Vervoort, the letter of resolution will be sent to Saatkamp on Monday morning, Nov. 26. It will then be up to Saatkamp if he wants to look into breaking the 10-year contract with the chicken franchise that has weathered a storm of controversy since comments made by its president over the summer.
The Stockton Affiliated Services contract is with Chartwell’s, which then has contracts with the restaurants in the Campus Center. However, money from the college students’ meal plans go to Chick-fil-A automatically.
“We look forward to seeing the resolution, and the president will take it under advisement,” Special Assistant to President Saatkamp Sharon Schulman said. “We will weigh the pros and cons and take the proposal under serious advisement.”
Over the summer, it was reported that Chick-fil-A’s charitable organization the WinShape Foundation donates to the Family Research Council, which reportedly lobbied against a resolution that would denounce Uganda’s so-called “Kill the Gays” bill. The bill calls for the death penalty for anyone who commits an act of homosexuality, which has been deemed a crime in Uganda.
The Family Research Council denied it was opposing the resolution, stating its goal was to clarify inaccuracies about homosexuality being a fundamental human right across the globe.
A recent survey of Stockton students found support for keeping the restaurant on campus. Of the roughly 1,600 students who participated in the survey, 66 percent voted to keep Chick-fil-A on campus. According to Student Senator Ben Peoples, about 300 people surveyed opted not to answer the question.
“Chick-fil-A was causing problems to arise on campus, and we could see the division,” Vervoort said. “We want all students to feel welcomed and supported.”
According to Student Senate Vice President David Lamando, members of the Stockton Pride Alliance, which represents the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community at the college, have attended the Senate’s last two meetings to express concerns about being discriminated against. According to Lamando, they feel the discrimination is being encouraged by Chick-fil-A’s presence at Stockton.
The vote was close, and not everyone spoke out in support of the resolution. Senators and students alike felt the issue was a matter of free speech.
“No one can tell you that what you feel is wrong,” Student Senator Matthew Monte said. “We were elected to serve the students, and 66 percent want to keep Chick-fil-A. I’m going to side with my people.”
Senators are elected by the student body. The top 27 vote-getters are elected to the Senate, which then chooses the president among themselves. Senators don’t take an oath of office, and don’t swear to uphold the Constitution.
“Our concern is with Stockton policies,” Vervoort said. “We follow those values and the school’s mission statement.”
“Chick-fil-A does not violate our mission statement,” Student Senator William Inacio said. “Why should we remove them because they have opinions that we don’t support personally?”
“Just by them being here, we support them whether I buy anything from them or not,” Student Senator Kaitlin Cibenko said. “I’m not comfortable with that.”
“Stockton is a public institution, so if you pay taxes in New Jersey, you’re supporting Chick-fil-A,” Student Senator Jessica Carey said.
Some senators felt it wasn’t a matter of free speech, but more a matter of human rights. Student Senator Manar Hussein believes the Senate vote now opens the door for discussion of other issues involving human rights.
“Regardless of if I’m the only one who feels a certain way or if there are many, if even one person advocates for human rights in another country, I expect the same amount of research to be done,” Hussein said. “With Chick-fil-A, it was such an uproar, I ask that you be fair to whatever demographic brings an issue, out of respect. I expect you to do the same research for everyone.”
“All issues will be addressed in a serious matter,” Vervoort said following the meeting. “We will deal with the issues that have the highest impact among Stockton students.”
Student reaction was mixed.
“I think you launched a missile to kill a mouse,” Stockton Senior Josh Kropkof said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “I’m very concerned with what the Senate will look at in the future. If a group on campus is saying something controversial, will the Senate bring that group forward for explusion? If a professor is saying things that are pretty offensive, will the Senate ask him to be dismissed? While you congratulate yourselves, remember you imposed your will the student body. You’re supposed to represent the students instead of pushing your own agendas.”
“Anytime you vote on the side of human rights, it’s the right thing to do,” Stockton Senior Don Scheer said. “This is the first step toward supporting human rights.”