Why Dave Chappelle's School Made a Sharp U-Turn in Naming Controversy

Dave Chappelle's former school has made a sharp u-turn in a decision to name a theater after the comedian.

The Duke Ellington School of the Arts this week confirmed its decision to name the theater after the controversial comedian amid the ongoing controversy over the trans jokes in his Netflix special, The Closer.

The school announced on November 12 that it had postponed an already prepared renaming ceremony scheduled for November 23 after some of its students threatened to walk out in protest.

That happened in the midst of the scandal with some Netflix employees even staging a walkout from the streaming company in protest at the jokes, which many have condemned as transphobic.

The school's principal, Sandi Logan, told The Washington Post at the time that school officials had met with students to discuss Chappelle's comments and decided to move the ceremony to April 2022.

"On our end, we just needed a little time to get our community to at least have the conversation—not to maybe change minds. That is never our objective," Logan explained. "We needed that time to be able to get conversation and meaningful progress within the community, not a Band-Aid."

Dave Chappelle
Dave Chappelle speaks during The 2015 Duke Ellington School of the Arts Commencement Ceremony at Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University on June 14, 2015, in Washington, DC. Leigh Vogel/Getty Images

Last week, Chappelle announced a fundraising contest to decide if the theater should be named after him, but the school quickly overruled this initiative and said it would be going ahead and naming the theater after the comedian regardless.

Why Did the Duke Ellington School Make a U-Turn?

The school is naming the theater after Chappelle to honor the wishes of its late co-founder, Peggy Cooper Cafritz.

Cooper Cafritz was a grande dame of the Washington D.C. arts scene who passed away in 2018.

Peggy Cooper Cafritz
Educator and Philanthropist Peggy Cooper Cafritz is honored at the 19th Annual Celebration of Leadership in the Fine Arts at Sidney Harman Hall on September 16, 2015, in Washington, DC. Earl Gibson III/Getty Images

"While we appreciate Dave's impromptu and spirited fundraising initiative, we stand behind our decision to honor the wishes of our co-founder, the late Peggy Cooper Cafritz, to name the theater after Chappelle," the school said in an official statement on its website.

"All donations will go towards arts programming and every donor, irrespective of their support or opposition to the theater naming, will receive an official thank you from our team."

The statement continued: "Chappelle cares deeply about Ellington and its students and regards them as family."

Last week, Chappelle made an appearance at the school before Thanksgiving break with Politico reporting that he was labeled a "bigot" by students while there.

The school has since refuted those claims and said that such reports were "inaccurate, devoid of context, and neglected to include the nuances of art."

The school added: "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. 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. The debates among some Ellington students largely mirror those that exist across Washington, D.C., and the country as a whole. The varying viewpoints expressed by students reflect differences of opinion across a wide variety of socioeconomic factors, including class, race, and gender expression."

Dave Chappelle
Tia Powell-Harris, CEO of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts; Peggy Cooper Cafritz, co-founder of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts; student Makael Exum; Dave Chappelle, alum of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts; and Muriel Bowser, Mayor of Washington, DC, at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts on September 29, 2017, in Washington, DC. Shannon Finney/Getty Images