Who Is Responsible For David Duke, A Former Klan Leader, Speaking At Dillard University?
HBCUs are often lauded as safe havens for Black students trying to further their education. But a recent incident at Dillard University has some folks wondering what the hell happened? Dillard University recently agreed to be the host a senatorial debate, as they’ve done before. The only problem was that this year, one of the candidates was David Duke.
If you’re like me, it takes you a minute to recognize where you’ve heard it before. And then the realization comes. David Duke was a leader in the Ku Klux Klan, a grand wizard to be precise. He cut ties with the organization in 1980 saying he found the violence associated with the organization to be distasteful. He also claimed that he has respect for “all the peoples of the world.” He said he was an anti-globalist and anti-colonist. Still, he has never been able to escape comments he made back in ’70’s. Comments that included referring to Black people as “primitive animals.”
According to The Daily Mail, Duke was allowed to participate in the debate, along with candidates John Kennedy, US Representative Charles Boustany and John Fleming, public service commissioner Foster Campbell and attorney Caroline Fayard, because he had earned five percent of the polls. Scary. Raycom, the media company who sponsored the debate, set that rule in place. They also mandated that no students from Dillard or outside media be allowed to cover the event. Naturally, the students of Dillard, Black students, were not happy about it and showed up outside of their auditorium to protest.
Police formed a human wall to block the entrance to the place. One student attempted to scale the side of a building, using the door frame. It’s his image that has gone viral on social media. Author Denene Millner posted it on her Facebook page, asking the same questions many of us have.
This picture wasn’t the extent of it though. One female officer was pepper-sprayed in the face and ushered away from the scene.
At 6:45, the University tweeted:
But The Advocate told a different story, saying that four people were detained during the protest and one was arrested for trespassing. Later, the University re-tweeted a link from The Advocate saying that there were six arrested during the protests.
So, what. happened?
Dillard told Inside Higher Ed, that they did not know David Duke was going to be participating in the debate when they agreed to host. In another statement, the university said, “We were requested to provide a space for an undetermined number of candidates for a forum that would not be open to the public. Dillard University does not endorse the candidacy of any of the candidates who will appear at this debate.”
During in an e-mail correspondence with Inside Higher Ed, Dillard University President Walter M. Kimbrough wrote that the night was disappointing but informative.
“Racial tension is really high, and even the presence of someone who is not a serious candidate caused emotions to run high. While most of the protesters were not students, our [Student Government Association] held a watch party that actually had more students than the protest.”
The university stood by its decision to honor its contractual obligation with media company Raycom to host the debate and didn’t believe Duke’s appearance was enough to back out of their agreement.
“If we’re trying to get out of it because one person is coming to campus, that’s a problem for me in terms of what I value.” Kimbrough said. “That’s one of the criticisms of higher ed: we don’t accept diverse opinions.”
There are some who argue that it is Raycom who owes Dillard an apology for not informing them sooner that Duke would be present at the debate. But also, it was their self-commissioned poll that allowed Duke to appear on that Dillard stage earlier this week. A writer for CenLamar believes that in order for this nationally televised event to get more viewers, it needed a celebrity or controversial figure. And Duke is certainly that person. Lamar White Jr., the author of the CenLamar piece believes it’s Raycom that owes Dillard an apology for manipulating the situation.
Others are not so willing to absolve Dillard of responsibility.
Before the event even began, a student group, who called themselves “Socially Engaged Dillard University Students” wrote President Kimbrough saying:
“…we have heard your response that Dillard “must” honor its commitment to WVUE and Raycom Media. Dr. Kimbrough, respectfully, this response is specious. You are the President of a Historically Black College whose mere presence is anathema to EVERYTHING David Duke promotes. Instead of denying the presence of this terrorist onto our campus, you have ASSURED HIS SAFETY by Dillard University armed police, AGAINST US, your Dillard University student body. We write to you today not only to express our hurt and shame, but also to fight for our ancestors and their struggles. How dare this administration stand for Duke’s “safety” and not fight for our security and right to learn in a healthy space.”
The damage has been done. David Duke was already on the Dillard stage. Our ancestors have already rolled over in their graves. But it’s painfully clear that Raycom did not care to respect the integrity or mission of the university. And for that alone, Dillard should terminate any present and future contractual obligations to Raycom.