Six protesters were reportedly detained while many more were pepper-sprayed during raucous protests on Wednesday against the appearance of a former Ku Klux Klan (KKK) leader at Dillard University, a historically black university in New Orleans.
David Duke, former KKK grand wizard and a known white supremacist, was at the university to attend the final televised debate for Louisiana’s senatorial race, of which he is a candidate.
When it was made known that Duke would be taking part, students and members of the public were outraged.
Historically black college hosts U.S. Senate debate. Organizers ban students to create safe space for David Duke. https://t.co/m4PRIGKiU7
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) November 2, 2016
Dillard said in a statement that it did not know that Duke was going to be involved when it agreed to host the debate.
“We were requested to provide a space for an undetermined number of candidates for a forum that would not be open to the public,” it said.
Dillard President Walter Kimbrough said that officials had considered canceling the debate or pushing for a change of venue, but was contractually bound to hold the event.
Students protest as former KKK member David Duke debates at a historic black university https://t.co/bBXOzvGDXL
— CNN (@CNN) November 3, 2016
They eventually decided that the university would honor the agreement, as it wasn’t in the business of suppressing free speech, “even when we don’t agree with it”, reported USA Today.
“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.
“That’s one of the criticisms of higher education: we don’t accept diverse opinions,” he wrote to Inside Higher Ed in an email.
Critics of the decision, however, said that a racist should not be welcome on a campus with a mission of educating African-Americans.
David Duke doesn’t belong on anyone’s campus, especially not an #HBCU. His presence at Dillard is a disgrace and an insult.
— K.T. Ewing (@KTEwing901) November 3, 2016
On the day of the debate, a group of over 50 protesters gathered outside the building and attempted to get into the auditorium where the debate was being held.
“No Duke, no KKK, no fascist USA,” they chanted, along with “Let us in! Let us in!” when they were denied entry by the authorities.
When the protest turned rowdy, campus police deployed pepper spray to control the crowd and arrested several protesters.
— Kasia Kovacs (@kasiakovacs) November 3, 2016
In the aftermath, Kimbrough said he wanted to use the situation as a learning opportunity to challenge students to look beyond the headlines.
“I just keep trying to put it in perspective. I’m just trying to find ways for us to have conversations about what are our core values and beliefs,” he said.
“There are lots of learning opportunities. What kind of conversations can we have about the purpose of media and news?”
Image via the Associated Press