There's a subtext to everything these days.

In fact, the subtext seems to have become more important than the everyday way we live.

We're being forced to take sides. And if you're on one side, you're supposed to follow all the precepts of that side. Or else.

Which leads me, quite naturally, to Chick-fil-A.

Its customers adore it. They go out of their way to eat it. Why, sometimes there's so much demand that the company has to put two Chick-fil-A's next door to each other.

That isn't going to happen on the campus of Rider University.

This private New Jersey institution surveys its students in order to see what sorts of dining options they want to see on campus.

This year, however, one option has been removed. 

In an email to students, Gregory G. Dell'Omo and Leanna Fenneberg -- respectively president and vice-president of student affairs -- offered their tortured views on the subject of the closed-on-Sundays chicken chain.

The email read: 

Dear members of the Rider community,

A few weeks ago, we sent a survey to students to elicit feedback on options for bringing a new restaurant franchise to Rider. Although it was included in previous surveys, Chick-fil-A was removed as one of the options based on the company's record widely perceived to be in opposition to the LGBTQ+ community.

That decision required a difficult assessment of competing interests. We sought to be thoughtful and fair in balancing the desire to provide satisfying options for a new on-campus restaurant while also being faithful to our values of inclusion.

The choices in this situation, like in so many others, were imperfect. 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. 

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. 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.

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.

Because of that, we've asked Rider's Center for Diversity and Inclusion to organize a campus forum so that the voices of students, faculty, staff and others can continue to be heard, and we can all grow from this experience. We will share more details when they become available.

Laid bare here is a microcosm of our world.

Can you exclude in order to be inclusive?

Our beliefs and opinions have been polarized to such a degree that we find ourselves feeling forced to exclude any activity that might contradict them.

Yet an essence of humanity is self-contradiction. Hypocrisy, if you like.

Some might mutter that having a Chick-fil-A on campus would still leave students free to make their own decisions as to whether to enjoy its particular strain of chicken.

As the email confesses, Chick-fil-A has done nothing illegal. It's merely that some of its owners have supported views that many find repulsive.

I contacted the chicken chain to ask for its views. It told me: 

While we respect the University's decision, this news story represents a good opportunity to clarify misperceptions about our brand. Chick-fil-A is a restaurant company focused on food, service and hospitality, and our restaurants and licensed locations on college campuses welcome everyone. We have no policy of discrimination against any group, and we do not have a political or social agenda. More than 120,000 people from different backgrounds and beliefs represent the Chick-fil-A brand.

It depends, critics might say, on whom you call we.

How much, though, do people know about many other businesses they happen to like?

The San Francisco Giants, for example, are currently undergoing a stiff examination after it emerged that the team's principal owner, Florida resident Charles Johnson, contributes to organizations around which there's a might stench of racism.

Does that mean fans should find another team?

That's going to be difficult. You see, Major League Baseball itself is now being pilloried for contributing to the campaign of Cindy Hyde-Smith, the very same controversial Republican senate candidate who received Johnson's money.

Major League Baseball's excuse for its contribution might seem like a contribution to the Risible Argument Hall of Fame.

But if baseball itself financially supports views many find repulsive, should the whole game be boycotted?

We're in very difficult territory.

How many times, for example, did people find the views and actions of Rupert Murdoch heinous and still merrily give him money by watching the Simpsons on his Fox TV channel?

I don't pretend to have obvious answers. I fear, though, that in the bowels of many beloved businesses there lurk individuals and views that many of those businesses' most ardent supporters would loathe.

It's clear that many more businesses are being examined for their social and political views.

Equally, many businesses are increasingly involving themselves in social and political matters because of their owners' beliefs or because they see it as important to their employees that they take a stand.

At heart, though, we're living in an ugly period of history, one that will have repercussions for business, politics and education for many years to come.

Published on: Nov 27, 2018
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