As a senior at Chapman University, I am one of 122 Black* students out of 7,281. Being Black at Chapman has always been an exhausting task, but this year, the issues Black students face have come to a head.
Chapman has had a “The Birth of a Nation” poster gracing the halls of Dodge College of Film and Media Arts (the No. 6 film school in the country) for years. The poster was donated by filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille’s estate. The controversial film was made in 1915 by D.W. Griffith and led to the Ku Klux Klan’s second wave, which began in Stone Mountain, Georgia in 1865. Bob Bassett, dean of Dodge College, has refused to respond to comment on the issue to The Panther, and President Daniele Struppa has publicly shown reluctance to remove the poster. In an April 10 column, Struppa wrote that the movie is “artfully done,” and that the film has “nostalgia for a time before the Civil War.”
Struppa’s column was ill-informed about the actual stance of Black students. It was only once he came to a Black Student Union (BSU) meeting on April 15 that he began to understand the consequences of keeping this poster up in the hall. The display lacks context, and most of us who are advocating for its removal have offered other suggestions, such as moving the poster to Chapman’s Hilbert Museum – located right near campus – where anyone who wants to engage would be able to have a discussion in an appropriate place. A hallway in the film school is not the appropriate place.
Chapman has a habit of ignoring its Black students, and it shows. Black students often leave because resources are so limited. Trauma is something that exists for Black students every day here. The reluctance to remove a poster with no educational value is indicative of the climate created by the administration who has failed to recognize the white privilege of being able to separate the film’s aesthetics from its content and context.
The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is not just a part of history. For many of us, that fear is a part of everyday life. In February 2016, there was a KKK rally not far from the Chapman Grand apartment complex, where students now live. It is scary to know just how close they were to campus.
After a student protest April 18, the faculty has decided to move the vote to remove the poster from September to April 22 – this Monday. To be honest, I’m scared. I want to believe that the Chapman faculty will do the right thing and remove a celebration of a racist film from Dodge’s hallways.
But the attempts to stall the needs of the students makes me wary about the consequence of this vote. This poster is hurting people. It’s a reminder that Black student voices have never mattered enough to the university that they would be willing to do something about it.
This conversation is part of a much bigger problem, which is that Black students at Chapman struggle with finding a home. I found mine at Chapman’s BSU, but that is a student-run organization with little support from faculty. It is time for the Chapman community to step up as these issues come to a head. There should be no more waiting or putting students off. Address these concerns now before it is too late. The way this conflict is handled will be indicative of the future of the Chapman community for at least the next 10 years. Please choose wisely.
*As a columnist, I have chosen to capitalize Black despite the AP Style rule because in this case, Black is a globally recognized group of people who are marginalized due to race and often share similar experiences.