You might ask yourself, “Why is Rider’s choice to not enter into a commercial contract with Chick-fil-A even news beyond our campus?” Why is the story framed the way it is, focused on “exclusion” and ignoring the student voice? Why are those concerned with the human rights, dignity and safety of LGBTQ+ people on our campus called “radical leftists?” Why are conservative voices asking you to be outraged while simultaneously framing the student body as apolitical or apathetic to consumer choices? Why the delay between the initial announcement of the decision and media attention?
The reason that this is a national story at all, as noted in Megan Lupo’s Nov. 28 article, is, because Joshua Aminov, of Rider’s chapter of Turning Point USA, published this story on Campus Reform, a conservative watchdog website for higher education. Posting the story was meant to provoke backlash and controversy, and the story itself deliberately puts the students against the administration, a framing that many media outlets ran with instead of questioning. There is a difference between a survey for input and student “demands,” which Leanna Fenneberg notes when speaking of “misperceptions in the national media.”
As an information literacy specialist who teaches critical thinking of the media, I thought it might be helpful to make this context of the media reporting explicit and to unpack statements being put forth that place Rider’s decision in a negative light. Let’s begin with this statement: “Universities around the country are constantly teaching all of their students not to be biased, yet Rider had no hesitation in saying they disagree with Chick-fil-A’s values and, for that reason, won’t pursue a partnership with them on campus.” The intent is to accuse Rider of being hypocritical in its “bias” against Chick-fil-A.
This is a false equivalency of different concepts and also an erroneous oversimplification meant to confuse. First, there is a false premise in this statement. Universities don’t teach students “not to be biased” — faculty teach students how to recognize various biases and to be as objective and critical as possible in weighing pros and cons from various viewpoints and reaching reasoned conclusions based on evidence.
The line about “universities…teaching all of their students not to be biased” is actually conservative-speak accusing higher education of being a liberal indoctrination machine. It is being used as a “gotcha” statement you are meant to accept without questioning. Second, personal bias is different than organized, funded or systemic discrimination. Discriminating against classes of people is not at allthe same thing as choosing not to enter into a business partnership with a corporation because of such discrimination.
There is the assertion that the students who voted for Chick-fil-A were aware of the company’s track record and did not care. The only basis for this claim is that New Jersey is a “blue state,” that is, liberal leaning. A context of liberal politics does not mean that everyone is equally aware of “liberal” causes or news, which is the unstated premise here. Many of the students that my colleagues and I have encountered were notaware of Chick-fil-A’s anti-LGBTQ+ stance and subsequently expressed distaste for the corporation once they knew. How would the student rankings have been different had this information been made explicit? Even if it were true that “most students don’t take interest in mixing politics with what they eat,” why should student apathy trump Rider’s community ethics?
The main claim of those critiquing the administration’s decision is that student opinion should be the deciding factor. While business decisions might include consideration of student opinion, there are a myriad of other factors to consider, and civil rights are not determined by majority votes. Some students are angry that the option was presented to them and then taken away, not because of their ardent desire for Chick-fil-A — it is only chicken, after all — but because of the mismanagement of the vetted voting process, a scenario not addressed by critics. Other students are embarrassed that the story has been picked up by national media outlets.
You might ask yourself, like I have, “Is this outrage real?” What might this particular narrative be meant to distract you from? What might a positive take on this story sound like instead? In this age of cultivated political divisiveness and fake news, you should always ask yourself: who is telling this story, how and why?
Melissa A. Hofmann
This Letter to the Editor was sent on Nov. 30.