Coffee shop bullied off campus over owner’s support for police

The university agreed to prematurely allow the business to exit its contract due to the extenuating circumstances.

A small business made the decision to leave campus after backlash from students over a "Thin Blue Line" flag.

A small coffee shop at Boise State University in Idaho has closed, just months after opening, in response to student complaints about the owner’s pro-police views.

After backlash from the student government and calls for the university to cancel the restaurant’s contract, the owner closed the shop voluntarily, leaving several students unemployed. Earlier in 2020, BSU began looking for a coffee vendor to replace a Starbucks at the school’s library, choosing a small coffee shop named Big City Coffee and Café

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During a meeting on Sept. 7, the Inclusive Excellence Student Council (IESC) condemned the decision to bring the restaurant to campus, only several days after Big City Coffee had its soft opening. Members of the IESC expressed concerns over the shop owner Sarah Fendley’s pro-police beliefs and the display of the Thin Blue Line flag at the coffee shop. 

“We are supporting an organization that blatantly supports the Thin Blue Line and every Black person I know has stories of being treated unfairly at this place,” member Alyssa Wainaina said. “I believe that they should have never been brought to campus and if it can be reversed it should be. Not reversing it sends a statement across the campus.”

“There should be more marginalized student voices on this. You need to find a way to cancel this contract because every marginalized student knows about this affiliation and that it is a dangerous place,” Wainaina added.

Fendley defended her pro-police beliefs, stating that she is engaged to a police officer who was previously injured in the line of duty, according to KTVB 7. Fendley’s fiancé, Kevin Holtry, lost his leg after suffering multiple gunshot wounds in a crossfire with a felon in 2017.

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In a September meeting, student government Vice President of Inclusive Excellence Ryann Banks stated, “This company is going to encourage this type of behavior on campus and attract those types of people to our campus. It should not be up to marginalized students to fix this. It is up to the administrators to fix this and allow for students to have a voice.  We have known for half a decade that they support Thin Blue Line and this is unacceptable and should have never happened.

On Oct. 22, Fendley closed the campus location leaving more than 20 students unemployed, and stuck with tens of thousands of dollars worth of investment in equipment for the campus location.

BSU posted a statement on social media stating that the University couldn’t violate the free speech rights of anybody and agreed to release Big City Coffee out of their contract with the school: “After some students began speaking out against the owner’s personal beliefs, we explained that we could not violate the First Amendment Rights of anyone on campus. Following that, the owner requested to be let out of the contract. We agreed to the owner’s request.” 

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“At no time did the administration at Boise State ask Big City Coffee to leave campus. At no time did the administration ask Big City Coffee to compromise the owner’s First Amendment rights,” it continued.

“Boise State was working with the owner to help find a successful resolution to the concerns regarding free speech on campus. Big City Coffee’s recent actions signal that the business has chosen to leave.”

Fendley declined to comment. 

Campus Reform reached out to BSU and IESC for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @mn_turn