‘Black students don’t feel comfortable at Chapman’: Struppa attends BSU meeting on controversial poster

Student Government Vice President Arianna Ngnomire, a member of Black Student Union, asked Daniele Struppa, Chapman’s president, if he would remove the controversial “The Birth of a Nation” poster from campus if faculty voted in favor. He said yes. Photo by Cassidy Keola

In a “passionate” late-night meeting, some members of Chapman’s Black Student Union (BSU) became upset as President Daniele Struppa said he would not tell Dodge College of Film and Media Arts faculty what to do about the controversial “The Birth of a Nation” poster hanging in Marion Knott Studios.

The meeting, which took place April 15 in Beckman Hall 105, began at 10 p.m. and lasted until around 1 a.m.

“The Birth of a Nation” poster has garnered controversy on campus since late March, as the film features actors in blackface and is thought to have contributed to the resurgence of the modern Ku Klux Klan revival.

Struppa acknowledged the “insensitivity” with which the film portrayed African Americans, but held that he would not remove it.

“There were a lot of tears, a lot of shocked faces, a lot of hurt and confusion. I still have yet to hear one good reason to keep the poster up,” Naidine Conde, president of BSU, told The Panther.

Toward the end of the meeting, BSU member Arianna Ngnomire, who is also vice president of student government, asked Struppa if the poster would be taken down if Dodge College faculty voted for its removal. He said yes. Dodge faculty is set to vote on the future of the poster at the faculty meeting April 22.

Students have strongly advocated for the poster to be taken down, with film production graduate student Arri Caviness tweeting at Dodge’s Twitter March 29. It took the school’s account five days to respond.

The poster is a reminder of the casual but violent racism prevalent in the 1900s and today, Caviness told The Panther April 7. A petition for its removal has garnered more than 66 signatures, as of April 21.

Struppa said he will not advise faculty on how to respond, but will protect whatever decision is voted on.

“If the president tells the faculty, ‘You have to take down the poster,’ that is censorship,” Struppa told The Panther in a phone interview April 16. “If the faculty doesn’t want to have the poster because they don’t think it serves a positive educational perspective … if I were to say ‘You need to keep it,’ that would be censorship.”

Film production professor Henry Finch said that faculty should weigh in because they work alongside students.

“I don’t think it should be censored by taking it down and hiding it away,” Finch told The Panther. “It should be shown at a museum in a historical context of the history of race relations in this country.”

Struppa was attentive during the meeting and took notes while students shared their opinions, Conde said.

“As a white, European man who didn’t grow up in the racist culture of America and who is not impacted by the racist culture on this campus, I think it was a very eye-opening discussion for him,” Conde said.

During the meeting, Struppa told The Panther, his understanding of students’ perspectives widened. He also learned that conversations surrounding the poster have been circulating around Dodge since at least last year.

“The poster is a byproduct of a larger discussion,” Struppa told The Panther. “Black students don’t feel comfortable at Chapman. That was the key message I received.”