Birmingham-Southern College Students petition against Dinesh D’Souza talk

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Nearly 200 students, alumni, and faculty at Birmingham-Southern College, a Methodist-affiliated liberal arts school, have signed a petition condemning the appearance of conservative Indian-American author and commentator Dinesh D’Souza citing “hateful rhetoric” and “polarizing statements” from throughout his career.

“Due to Mr. D’Souza’s extensive history of controversial statements and instances of insensitivity, we believe that he will only debase the vital dialogue within our community that is necessary for learning,” the petition reads. “Mr. D’Souza’s use of hateful rhetoric will also demean and degrade vital shareholders within our community.”

The former Reagan administration foreign policy advisor is the latest to be invited to BSC’s campus as part of the William M. Acker Jr. Visiting Scholar Lecture series. In 2015 the guest lecturer was Judge Margaret Ryan, member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces and Professorial Lecturer in Law at the George Washington University School of Law,

Mr. D’Souza is currently serving a probationary period after pleading guilty to charges of campaign finance fraud for using so-called “straw donors” to make $20,000 in donations to U.S. Senate Candidate Wendy Long in 2012.

Birmingham-Southern alumnus Kindred Motes, who did not sign the petition, but says he understands students’ frustrations and concerns, believes the BSC community’s reaction and condemnation of D’Souza’s visit is quite a bit more nuanced than protests at other schools frequently in the news in recent years.

“It’s disappointing to see Birmingham-Southern has provided such a prominent platform for Mr. D’Souza,” Mr. Motes told Alabama Today. “Far too often, D’Souza has propagated falsehoods about nearly every marginalized group in the United States – including immigrants, refugees, and the LGBT community. He has even defended torture, which former BSC President Krulak condemned just last year in a series of editorials.

“I fully support Mr. D’Souza’s right to hold and express his inflammatory beliefs, but I do encourage BSC to distance itself from them institutionally. Many ‘Southern students, educators, and alumni of all orientations, ethnicities, and backgrounds have been progressive voices in a conservative community, and rather than boycotting the speech, I hope they will be present to confront bigotry with compassion, tolerance, and – most of all – facts.”

Other members of the community, including alumnus John Thomason, say they believe the spirit of the petition is contradictory.

“I think the petition is unnecessary and contradictory,” said Mr. Thomason. “The organizers behind the petition say they don’t want D’Souza to be banned from speaking, but they want him condemned and have had the SGA issue a statement condemning him.

“It seems odd that you want the SGA and the college at large to condemn him as promoting hate speech but still let him speak.”
In a statement emailed to Alabama Today, the college itself has maintained that it will allow the embattled figure to speak Thursday, adding BSC President Dr. Edward F. Leonard III met with a group of concerned students on the matter last week.
“We appreciate this group of students’ engagement in this matter and believe their eagerness to participate in an open dialogue on campus shows the true value of the liberal arts education Birmingham-Southern College provides,” said Dr. Leonard. “We feel it’s important for our students to hear from a variety of different perspectives and are very proud to be able to provide that.”
As for Mr. D’Souza, his only reactions to the petition have been on Twitter.

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