David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK, narrowly reached the 5% voting support he needed to be considered a legitimate candidate for Senator of Louisiana. Although according to his numbers he doesn’t actually stand a chance in winning the seat, it’s horrifying to realize that a substantial number of people are voting for him. What’s even more disturbing is that he was now allowed to participate in the November 2nd debate which was to be hosted by Dillard University. Not sure this could get any worse? Dillard University is a historically black institution.
Dillard University is known for hosting many debates and had already contracted a deal to host this debate, not having anticipated that Duke would be allowed to participate. Once the voting results had been released, university administrates found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place; they had to make a decision about whether they would uphold their contractual obligations and allow Duke to participate in the debate on their campus, or back out of the contract and risk their credibility. Administration ultimately chose to uphold their contract. The students on campus were outraged and a protest against Duke’s presences on campus began outside of the building where the debate was taking place. As I’m writing this, six protesters have been arrested.
The university defended itself by arguing that they very frequently host debates and breaching this contract, despite the implications of Duke’s presence, would jeopardize the university’s credibility in hosting any more debates. The president of Dillard University also justified their reasoning by saying that Duke is not at all a legitimate candidate and that he doesn’t have a chance in winning the seat in the Senate; whether or not Dillard hosts a debate in which he participates won’t make a difference either way.
Students responded with a letter in response which not only expresses their shame and pain but explains the hypocrisy of prioritizing David Dukes safety (not only by allowing him to have a place to spread bigoted rhetoric but Duke also received police escort) over the black students who deserve “security and [the] right to learn in a healthy space.” It goes without saying why black students would feel unsafe on campus after their university allowed for Duke to make an appearance, and it goes without saying why they feel as though they’ve been made second priority to a former KKK Grand Wizard. During this very debate Duke decided to spread his hateful rhetoric by claiming the “Black Lives Matter movement calls for the murder of police officers and calls for the death of police” and defending previous anti-Semitic remarks.
While it’s obviously a shame that this debate involving Duke took place at Dillard University (or anywhere for that matter) the question of whether the university made the right call about hosting the debate or not remains. On the one hand, academic institutions are supposed to encourage civil discussions from people of all walks of life and with all kinds of opinions. On the other hand, universities have an obligation to make their students feel safe and respected and denying that Duke’s presence violates that for black students on campus is a microinvalidation (or maybe not so micro). But what about the fact that this country was founded with free speech as a constitutional right and a democratic process to power? Well, private institutions do have a right to invite speakers and guests as they please for political reasons or to control for hate speech. And what about the fact that universities are businesses with bottom lines and reputations to uphold?
I’m curious to hear what others think about these events. Did the university make the right call? Do you think that if there was another university in the United States in this situation but the person involved was once involved in a different notorious hate group or terrorist organization, do you think the university would have felt as pressured to let them debate on their campus?