Despite the controversy surrounding Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix special The Closer, concern expressed from students during a Q&A session with the comedian, and a renaming fundraiser announced by the comedian this week to decide the fate of the school’s theater name, Chappelle’s old high school still intends to rename its theater after him, according to a statement on its website.
On Monday, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts has shared that it will be doing what late co-founder Peggy Cooper Cafritz had wished for, with all donations from Chappelle’s previously shared renaming contest—which encouraged everyone to voice their opinions with a donation—going toward arts programming on campus. Donors, regardless of if they requested the building be named after the comedian or not, will receive a “thank you” from the school.
“Chappelle cares deeply about Ellington and its students and regards them as family,” the statement reads. “He made an unannounced visit before the Thanksgiving break to meet with his Ellington family and to hear directly from the few students who have concerns about his recent comedy special, The Closer. He also wanted to directly express support for their safety in light of some disturbing online comments targeting the Ellington community.”
The statement also addressed reports from his appearance on campus, calling them “inaccurate, devoid of context, and neglected to include the nuances of art.” As previously reported, one 16-year-old student allegedly called Chappelle a “bigot” and claimed he handled criticism “like a child.” Chappelle reportedly responded by telling the student that he doesn’t “believe you could make one of the decisions I have to make on a given day.”
“As an art institution, we educate our students on the importance of media literacy and art as a free and open form of expression to both reflect and challenge society,” the statement continued. “Although it appears that the clear majority of students at Ellington favor naming the theater 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 instill genuine, respectful curiosity in perspectives that challenge one’s own.”
Ellington concluded its statement by sharing that the mission of the school is to “nurture and develop artist citizens” and that it has expanded its social studies teachings in light of an “ever-changing social climate.”
The decision comes just days after Chappelle—who has been under fire for controversial jokes about trans people in his October special—urged both fans and critics to state their case with a donation to his alma mater, writing that “whichever opinion donates the highest collective dollar amount, wins.”