Some conservative students on campus say the chairman of the NAACP is the wrong choice for a keynote speaker due to a history of controversial, anti-Republican comments.
Senior Alex Haimann created a petition asking the University to reconsider Julian Bond’s invitation as Commencement speaker. The GW chapter of the Young America’s foundation and the College Republicans signed the petition against Bond, who was also the founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Last month, when former White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove spoke at the Elliott School, president of GW YAF Sergio Gor asked audience members to consider the event as its Commencement address.
During an NAACP keynote speech in 2004, media outlets quoted Bond as saying that the Republican Party appeals “to the dark underside of American culture, to the minority of Americans who reject democracy and equality.” He was also quoted in 2006 as saying that the Republican “idea of equal rights is the American flag and Confederate swastika flying side by side.”
In a news release, the University emphasized that Bond’s speech in May is significant because it falls 40 years after the death of Martin Luther King Jr., and 45 years after King’s “I have a dream” speech.
Gor said he respects Bond for his civil rights efforts in the past, but has a problem with the University likening the man to King.
“The University has labeled this event as the anniversary of MLK’s speech, but Julian Bond is no MLK,” Gor said. “The hatred that he preaches is not accepting like MLK. It’s utterly unacceptable.”
Chris Brooks, the president of the College Republicans, echoed this message, explaining that Bond is a “divisive figure” speaking to a campus recovering from a variety of hateful events which took place this fall.
“With everything that’s happened this year – with the satirical posters and racial epitaphs – I think we need someone that will unite the campus, not divide it any further,” Brooks said.
University spokesperson Tracy Schario said Bond’s speech is noteworthy because of the anniversaries as well as the ongoing presidential campaign.
“We’re very pleased to have someone of the stature of Julian Bond speaking at Commencement, particularly on the year we’re recognizing Martin Luther King’s assassination and having a good chance of an African American being president,” Schario said.
Mike Freedman, GW’s vice president for communications, said debate will always surround people who are “catalysts for change.” He continued by questioning those who are hesitant to accept Bond as Commencement speaker.
“Why would we not want to have a proven civil rights leader who has spent five decades working on behalf of equality in the United States?” he said.
Mike Tapscott, director of the Multicultural Student Services Center, said he understands how some students might be wary of Bond, but implored the entire community to take a step back and “appreciate the body of (Bond’s) accomplishments.”
“I think it’s unfair to say that this man is unworthy,” Tapscott said. “This man has accomplished a lot; let’s see what we can learn from him.”