Dave Chappelle's alma mater will rename school theater after him despite controversy

Dave Chappelle's alma mater, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, is standing by the comedian despite recent backlash. In a statement issued on Sunday, the school said it will rename its theater after the comic regardless of his fundraising challenge. The school also called reports of his tense visit "inaccurate."

Chappelle, 48, has been engulfed in controversy since the Oct. 5 release of his Netflix special The Closer in which comments he made about the transgender community sparked outrage. The Duke Ellington School of the Arts initially postponed its renaming ceremony. On Saturday, Chappelle said he'd "step aside" from the honor if his critics donate more to the school than his supporters.

"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 theatre after Chappelle," the school said in a statement. "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 school added, "Chappelle cares deeply about Ellington and its students and regards them as family. 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 Duke Ellington School of the Arts issues statement after Dave Chapelle's surprise visit.
The Duke Ellington School of the Arts issues statement after Dave Chapelle's surprise visit. (Photo: WireImage) (Samir Hussein via Getty Images)

Chappelle held an hour-long Q&A session at the Washington, D.C. school on Nov. 23 with hundreds of students in attendance. There were multiple reports about his surprise appearance with The Washington Post claiming some students and parents were upset.

"While there has been extensive media coverage about the theatre naming and Chappelle's most recent visit to the school, the source stories that have gone viral have been inaccurate, devoid of context, and neglected to include the nuances of art," the school stated.

"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," the statement continued. "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. Ellington’s mission is to nurture and develop artist citizens. In light of this, Ellington has expanded its social studies curriculum to respond to the ever-changing social climate and relies heavily on our ability to incorporate real-life experiences into teachable moments."

Chappelle has not publicly addressed the school's announcement.