Dave Chappelle’s former school says theatre will be renamed after comedian despite student backlash

‘We are seizing this moment to demonstrate the importance of carefully listening to every voice within our diverse and inclusive community,’ the school said in a statement

Maanya Sachdeva
Tuesday 30 November 2021 09:29
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Dave Chappelle D.C. school controversy

Dave Chappelle’s former school has confirmed its theatre will be renamed after the comedian despite student backlash.

In a statement dated 28 November, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington DC said: “We stand behind our decision to honour the wishes of our co-founder, the late Peggy Cooper Cafritz, to name the theatre after Chappelle.”

The arts school released its statement after the 48-year-old comedian announced a fundraising initiative in support of his alma mater on his Instagram profile.

Responding to calls that the school reconsider its decision to commemorate Chappelle’s contribution to comedy, he wrote: “If you object to my receiving this honour, I urge you to donate to the school noting your objection. If you are in favour of the theatre being named ‘Chappelle’, I urge you to donate to the school, noting your approval.”

He added: “Whichever opinion donates the highest collective dollar amount, wins.”

While the school thanked him for organising an “impromptu and spirited fundraising initiative”, it clarified that it would not consider the votes attached to any donation amount.

Instead, the school said, “all donations will go towards arts programming”, while the theatre will be named after Chappelle to foster free-thinking, open dialogue, and acceptance of other viewpoints.

The statement read: “Although it appears that the clear majority of students at Ellington favour naming the theatre for Dave Chappelle, we are seizing this moment to demonstrate the importance of carefully listening to every voice within our diverse and inclusive community.

“Our purpose is not to form a uniformity of viewpoints, but to help instil genuine, respectful curiosity in perspectives that challenge one’s own.”

The Duke Ellington school had earlier announced it would hold off on renaming its theatre until April, amid the controversy surrounding Chappelle’s “transphobic” Netflix special The Closer.

The ceremony was originally slated for 23 November but postponed over threats over a student walk-out.

However, the comedian made an unannounced visit to his old school before the Thanksgiving break anyway.

In its statement, the school said Chappelle wanted to “hear directly from the few students who have concerns” about The Closer, and “directly express support for their safety” after some “disturbing online comments targeting the Ellington community” surfaced.

However, multiple students reported that Chappelle seemed defensive during the Q&A session, which did not feel like a “very welcome environment”.

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