Just three years after the fast-food franchise Chick-Fil-A’s public reckoning for donations made to anti-LGBT organizations, Cal Poly has reopened the popular yet controversial establishment on campus.
On Jan. 18, Cal Poly opened a temporary Chick-Fil-A location in Poly Canyon Village (PCV). The new location serves as a replacement for the original Chick-Fil-A housed in the now-defunct Avenue dining complex.
The pop-up location will have no indoor seating and serve a limited menu of familiar items like chicken sandwiches, nuggets and waffle-cut potato chips.
The opening of Chick-Fil-A in the former What’s Cookin’ location came with no public announcement from the university. According to Aaron Lambert, a communications specialist for the Cal Poly Corporation, Campus Dining relies on word of mouth for more popular venue openings.
“This approach helps control the customer volumes and ensures that the campus community can be served promptly and safely,” Lambert said in an email to Mustang News. “The opening of a pop-up in PCV was an opportunity to take advantage of a location that was not being fully utilized and offer a dining option that has consistently been one of the most popular on campus.”
The original Cal Poly Chick-Fil-A location previously received an award for reaching $2 million in sales in 2018. Cal Poly’s Chick-Fil-A was one of the top 52 sales-generating locations out of 362 nationwide.
The university plans for the PCV location to operate through the current school year. A permanent Chick-Fil-A location will be installed in the renovated University Union dining complex.
While the return of the popular dining option has drawn many students to the pop-up location, it has also reignited the controversy concerning Chick-Fil-A’s anti-LGBTQ+ views.
In an Academic Senate resolution that was passed in 2019, the university was encouraged to sever ties with the franchise because the relationship promoted “worldview[s] highly inconsistent with our values of diversity and inclusivity at Cal Poly.”
According to ThinkProgress, a progressive news website, Chick-Fil-A donated $1.6 million in 2017 to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for summer camps, an organization which bars its employees from homosexual acts, as well as $6,000 to Paul Anderson Youth Home, a “Christian residential home for trouble youth,” that teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong.
As of 2022, the franchise itself no longer donates to these organizations; however, CEO Dan Cathy remains one of the top donors of the National Christian Charitable Foundation, a group that has bankrolled opposition to the Equality Act which would expand civil protections for the LGBTQ community.
“Right now is a really important moment in the fight for LGBTQ rights and so to have a group like Cal Poly, that does have such an impact on our local community, come out and say ‘yeah, we want to invite this controversy back in, we want to invite this group that has this history of anti-LGBTQ actions back onto campus’ I think sends a louder message than they might be aware of,” Serrina Ruggles, the Director of Operations for San Luis Obispo’s GALA Pride and Diversity Center, said.
According to Thomas Gutierrez, Academic Senate Chair and author of the resolution, despite the strong recommendation of the Senate, the university chose to disregard the resolution on the basis of protecting Chick-Fil-A’s right to free speech as a business.
“The contract that Cal Poly has with Chick-Fil-A makes the university a lot of money and in this case, it feels like the university is ignoring the concerns of its students and faculty to continue making that money,” Gutierrez said.
Audio by Trevor Baumgardner
Ruggles, a San Luis Obispo resident, said she feels that the franchise is very closely tied to Cal Poly within the local community.
“I grew up here. I’ve lived here for most of my life and the only time I really hear much talk about Chick-Fil-A, other than when I see it in the news, is when it becomes an issue on campus again,” Ruggles said. “I think [the continued relationship with Chick-Fil-A] sends a strong message of ‘we hear you, we see you, we’re not going to do anything about it.’”
The resolution claims that the presence of the franchise at Cal Poly negatively impacts the campus climate for LGBTQ students and faculty alike.
“Unfortunately, we’re used to it. We expect it when we walk into a room we expect that we’re going to have to fight and we’re still not going to be listened to,” Ruggles said. “If they really want to make a change, if they really want to commit to diversity and equity and inclusion and make their students feel [heard], feel seen and feel safe on their campus then they need to put their money where their mouth is.”
Despite the continued presence of Chick-Fil-A on campus, Gutierrez said he does not plan to pursue further action through the Academic Senate.
“I’m proud of the work we did with the current resolution. Our recommendation to the university is on the record, but unfortunately our jurisdiction is limited,” he said.
Cal Poly’s most recent five-year contract with Chick-Fil-A will be up for renewal in 2023.