Harden: The Challenge of Being Black at Chapman University

Steven Lee

As a senior at Chapman University, I stand as one of 122 Black* students out of 8,542. Being Black at Chapman has always been an exhausting task, but this year the issues Black students face have significantly come to a head.

 

Chapman has had a “Birth of a Nation” poster gracing the halls of Dodge College Film and Media Arts (the number six film school in the country) since 2006. The poster was donated by filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille’s estate. The “controversial” film was created in 1915 by D.W. Griffith and led to the Ku Klux Klan’s second wave which began in Stone Mountain, Georgia. The Dean of Dodge College Bob Bassett and the President of our university, Daniele Struppa have shown reluctance to remove the poster. In an opinions column of the school newspaper, The Panther, Struppa wrote that the movie is “artfully done,” and that the film has “nostalgia for a time before the Civil War.”

Struppa’s column “Why I won’t take down the ‘Birth of a Nation’ poster” was ill-informed about the actual stance of Black students. It was only once he came to a Black Student Union meeting that he began to understand the foul 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 the Hubert museum located right on campus, where anyone who wants to engage in the content would be able to have a discussion in an appropriate place. A hallway in the film school is not the appropriate setting to talk about Birth of a Nation.

Chapman has a habit of ignoring its Black students, and it shows. It’s a commonality for so many of the Black students I have met to leave because resources are so limited. Trauma is something that exists for Black students every single day on this campus. And 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 esthetics from the content and context of the film. The Ku Klux Klan is not even just a part of history, For many of us, that fear is a part of everyday life. I live at Chapman Grand in Anaheim, but just three years ago, in Feb. 2016, there was a KKK rally not far from this apartment complex. There was violence incited and it was pretty scary to know how close they were to campus.

After yesterday’s protest, the faculty has decided to move the vote to remove the poster from September to Monday, and to be honest, I’m scared. I want to believe that the faculty of Chapman will do the right thing, and remove a celebration of a racist film from its hallways. But the attempts to stall the needs of the students makes me wary and cautious about the consequence of this vote. This poster is hurting people. It’s a reminder that Black student voices have never mattered to the university enough that they are willing to do something about it.

 

 This conversation is a part of a much bigger problem which is that Black students struggle with finding a home. I found mine at the Black Student Union, but that is a student-run organization who rarely has support from a faculty advisor. It is time for the Chapman community to step up as these issues come to a head. There is 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 ten 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 that are marginalized due to race and often share similar experiences.

Olivia Harden attends Chapman University (Class of 2019) and is the Features Editor of The Panther Newspaper.

Photo credits: Steven Lee

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