After at least 150 attend protest against hotly debated poster, Dodge faculty set to vote on its removal

the birth of a nation
After drawing criticism and condemnation from some Chapman students, the fate of Chapman’s controversial “The Birth of a Nation” poster will be decided by a faculty vote April 22. Photos by Jack Clendening

Following a protest where at least 150 students gathered on the steps of Memorial Hall April 18 and marched to the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts for a sit-in outside administrator’s offices, faculty will decide the fate of the controversial “The Birth of a Nation” poster hanging in Marion Knott Studios, in a vote during a faculty meeting April 22.

The decision was announced by Dodge’s associate dean, Michael Kowalski, as students cheered, hugged and congratulated each other.

“The vote will be on Monday afternoon,” Kowalski told students, who crowded in the hallway on Dodge’s third floor holding signs. The announcement was met with applause.

In an April 18 email sent to The Panther, Struppa said that some faculty have suggested an online vote to expedite the process.

“The vote is on Monday; this is what we were trying to accomplish,” Arianna Ngnomire, vice president of student government and one of the organizers of the protest, told the cheering crowd.

The demonstration advocated for the poster’s removal after multiple students condemned the film’s inflammatory past. The film depicts actors in blackface and is thought to have been one of the key factors in the resurgence of the modern Ku Klux Klan.

Students gathered to listen to members of Chapman’s Black Student Union (BSU), Dodge faculty and Ngnomire speak about the poster and diversity at Chapman.

Jae Staten, a junior film production major, was vocal about his belief that the poster should be taken down in an April 16 community forum held by Dean of Students Jerry Price. At the April 18 protest Staten addressed the crowd and at times, turned to speak to President Daniele Struppa, who sent an email to the student body the morning of April 18 about the protest.

President Daniele Struppa watches as at least 150 students protest April 18 on the steps leading to Memorial Hall, where Struppa’s office is located.

Struppa maintained his position on the poster, writing in the email that while he condemns the “disgusting” racism in the film, he will continue to “defend Dodge College faculty and administration’s right to decide if it remains.”

“You say in your email that we need to do better. Hell yeah, we need to do better,” Staten told Struppa, who stood near Staten at the top of the Memorial Hall steps.

Staten said during the rally that despite coming from the typically conservative state of Texas, he didn’t experience racism until he came to Chapman.

“Do you think we actually want to be here protesting right now?” Staten asked. “None of us do. We have class to be at right now. We have an education to have right now and we’re not able to do that.”

He also pointed out discrepancies between Chapman’s promotion of Netflix show “Stranger Things,” created by 2007 graduates Matt and Ross Duffer, and 2005 alumnus Justin Simien’s Netflix show “Dear White People.”

“Tell me why ‘Stranger Things’ gets a big old poster, and what does Justin Simien get?” Staten said, referring to an advertisement for Simien’s show once displayed on a waste receptacle outside of the Marion Knott Studios. “A trash can. That looks bad. That looks horrible.”

“You say in your email that we need to do better. Hell yeah, we need to do better.” – Jae Staten, junior film production major

Ron McCants, a Dodge adjunct professor who was the only faculty member to speak at the protest, said he hopes Dodge faculty vote to remove the poster April 22.

“I hope that you guys have a love and pride in your university,” McCants said to the crowd. “I find it very difficult for me to ask you, as a professor, to have pride and love your school when it is not currently showing you that same love, and pride and respect.”

Ngnomire, the final speaker, highlighted a page on Chapman’s website that cites the Cross-Cultural Center (CCC) and Chapman’s Diversity Project to “address” the myth that the university doesn’t care about diversity and inclusion.

Ideas for a cross-cultural or multicultural center had been discussed for years before the eventual opening of the CCC in spring 2017.

Ron McCants, a Dodge College of Film and Media Arts adjunct professor, was the only faculty member to speak at the protest April 18.

“Former President (Jim) Doti said it would “ghettoize” campus to have a CCC here,” Ngnomire said to the crowd. “That is the power that the president of a university has over everyone else. A leader knows what is right and wrong, a leader has morals, a leader has integrity and a leader stands up for minority voices.”

Dozens of students watched as she spoke, some holding up signs and flags that denounced white supremacy and racism while advocating for the recognition of the black community at Chapman.

“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. “That would be a big mistake. I understand that students might not feel that way.”

In an April 10 opinion column, Struppa wrote that he “disagree(d) with the request to remove the poster,” and attended a BSU meeting April 15 to listen to students’ concerns. Other faculty and administrators, including Price, were also at the steps of Memorial Hall watching the protest April 18.

“My major objection is their desire to have me make a decision over the faculty.” – President Daniele Struppa

The crowd made its way from Memorial Hall to Dodge College after about 45 minutes of speakers, crowding through the doors of the Marion Knott Studios. Students lined the first-floor hallway where “The Birth of a Nation” poster is displayed and began chanting, “Take it down.” Two students held a Black Lives Matter flag, as they led the crowd in its chants.

At least 150 people attended the protest April 18, which began on Chapman’s Memorial Hall steps and made its way to the Marion Knott Studios, where students sat in a hallway of faculty and administrator offices.

It’s incredibly easy to just pop it off the wall,” Kaedi Dalley, an undeclared freshman, told The Panther while standing in the first-floor hallway. “For folks of color touring Dodge who see this, what does this poster mean?”

About 10 minutes later demonstrators climbed the stairs of Marion Knott Studios to the third floor – where Dodge College Dean Bob Bassett’s office is located. While the doors leading to the administrative offices were locked, the crowd sat on both sides of the hallway and chanted phrases like, “Listen to the students” and “Vote now, listen now.”

“A leader knows what is right and wrong, a leader has morals, a leader has integrity and a leader stands up for minority voices.” – Arianna Ngnomire, senior screen acting major and student government vice president

Some students climbed to the top of the window into the Dodge reception office and covered it with the Black Lives Matter flag, as well as posters made by Ngnomire earlier that day with phrases like, “(Expletive) white supremacy” and “Black students matter” written on them.

“Administration not responding to this is a clear indication of a lack of respect for black students,” Yasmeen Abu Khalaf, a sophomore peace studies and political science double major, told The Panther while sitting in front of Bassett’s office. “This is a conversation that should have happened much earlier.”

Dodge faculty is set to vote on the poster’s future this Monday, April 22.

Clarification: A paraphrase of a source’s quote has been updated to attribute information to that source.