Late last year, some students at Boise State University threatened to protest a new company on campus called “Big City Coffee.”
Big City Coffee was selected to replace the Starbucks location at the university’s library.
Controversy over the companies departure from BSU ensued, with Big City Coffee claiming they were forced off the university campus location. BSU, however, contended that Big City Coffee requested to be let out of the contract with the university.
Now, earlier this week, Big City Coffee said they would file a $10 million tort claim against Boise State University.
Listed in the claim as defendants are: Boise State University, Marlene Tromp (BSU’s President), Leslie Webb (VP of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management), Alicia Estey (VP for University Affairs and Chief of Staff), and Francisco Salinas (Assistant to the VP for Equity Initiatives.)
For those at Boise State who had fought against Big City Coffee’s presence on campus, the primary reason was Big City’s display of a “Thin Blue Line” flag at Big City’s downtown location and the owner’s support of law enforcement. Sarah Fendley, the owner of Big City Coffee, said that the “Thin Blue Line” flag was never displayed on campus.
Despite the flag never being flown on campus, some students and school officials took issue with the off-campus display and the university’s selection process.
During an ASBSU meeting, minutes indicate that Ryann Banks, the VP of Inclusive Excellence Council, voiced her displeasure at the process in which Big City Coffee was chosen to replace Starbucks. In addition, banks made accusations against Big City Coffee to encourage support of Thin Blue Line behavior on campus.
In a meeting of ASBSU minutes from September 9th, Banks is quoted as saying,
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 [the coffee shop] support Thin Blue Line and this is unacceptable and should have never happened.
Banks is also quoted in the minutes of a meeting on September 29th saying the following about the approval process,
They used limited white feedback that is not affected by this. This is what I am worried about because they are not gathering information such as political affiliation and race. Marginalized students are the ones having to face the repercussions because of the lack of diverse feedback.
For Fendley, though, she said the “Thin Blue Line” flag was not a display of anything related to the Black Lives Matter movement. Instead, Fendley noted that she started displaying the flag after five Dallas police officers were killed in the line of duty back in 2016.
Fendley also said that the “Thin Blue Line” flag became more personal because her fiance was shot five times while on duty as a Boise Police Officer.
Fendley’s fiance, Kevin Holtry, who lost one of his legs in the line of duty due to gunshot wounds, now uses a wheelchair.
Holtry appeared on 670 KBOI’s Nate Shelman show and disputed the universities side of the story. Holtry told Shelman,
They just wanted her gone.
Holtry said that school administrators made it pretty clear that they wanted Big City gone from campus in a private meeting.
That was a direct contradiction to what Boise State said in their official statement on their Facebook page:
Boise State University has heard the community conversation regarding Big City Coffee’s location on campus.
Here are the facts:
As a popular local vendor in the community, Big City Coffee was invited onto our campus. The business opened this fall. Our students hold a wide range of opinions about this business. 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.
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.
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.
Our campus is a place for all people to peacefully and freely express their views. A commitment to free speech is not unique to Boise State University; protecting speech is required by the First Amendment and is a core value of our institution.
Boise State has not yet released a statement about the tort claim.
After Big City Coffee departed from the university location, their downtown location had lines of customers coming out to support their business.
It remains to be seen what will come from the claim.
Will Boise State settle? Will they fight the claim? Will Big City Coffee win the claim in the end?
Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Tags: Alicia Estey, Big City Coffee, Boise State University, Francisco Salinas, Leslie Webb, Marlene Tromp, Nate Shelman, Ryann Banks, Thin Blue Line, Tort Claim