On April 22, the faculty of the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts will be given a chance to use their voices in support of students. After three and a half weeks of discussion, sit-ins and columns, faculty will vote on the removal of the debated “The Birth of a Nation” poster hanging in the halls of the Marion Knott Studios.
Last week, President Daniele Struppa told the Chapman community that he wouldn’t remove the poster – which has been criticized for its portrayals of blackface and lynching. But once students continued the conversation, Struppa turned the decision over to Dodge faculty. Bob Bassett, the dean of Dodge College, has not responded publicly to student efforts to advocate for the poster’s removal, though The Panther has contacted him for comment multiple times.
Struppa has metaphorically thrown his hands up and Bassett, who will retire from the university after this semester ends, is nowhere to be found in the process. Students and a number of faculty have taken the matter into their own hands. And they’ve offered numerous solutions – including moving the poster to a museum to place it in historical context – yet Struppa continues to make the argument that the debate surrounding whether to remove the poster from Marion Knott Studios is a matter of censorship, even if the decision isn’t within his control.
Contextualizing something is not censoring it; it’s providing more information that will lead to a deeper, more holistic understanding of the complex history behind it.
The president of a university wields a great deal of power. But we understand that Struppa believes strongly in deferring that power to faculty governance – look at his defense of the university’s receipt of donations from the Charles G. Koch Foundation. We understand that he doesn’t view his power as absolute.
“My major objection is their desire to have me make a decision over the faculty,” Struppa told The Panther after students gathered on the Memorial Hall steps to protest April 18. “That would be a big mistake.”
Faculty governance matters, but this isn’t your everyday campus conflict. This poster brings up a painful history for the black students on campus. It’s akin to displaying a poster for a Nazi propaganda film, which also has its place: in a museum.
This is not an issue of political correctness, censorship or something that should fall down political party lines. It’s a chance for the faculty of Dodge College, which is predominately white, to show the students and faculty of color on campus that their voices, opinions and unwillingness to be constantly reminded of a despicable time in history are valid. We hope Dodge faculty does the right thing.