A chorus of “Black Lives Matter” and “No Bannon, No KKK, No fascist USA” were heard on the steps of the Chicago Booth School of Business in response to Stephen Bannon, former chief strategist and senior adviser in the Trump administration, accepting Professor Luigi Zingales’s invite to debate on immigration and globalization.
Student organizations (UChicago YDSA, UChicago Student Action, UChicago Socialists, and Students Working Against Prisons) and others took to the sidewalk with signs urging the University to rescind Bannon’s invitation.
“We’re out here, bright and early, to say white supremacists are not welcomed here,” says Everett Pelzman, one of the organizers of the event and a member of UChicago Socialists. “We’re taking a stand this morning because we know that when Steve Bannon can saunter on to this campus, and into this community unopposed, that normalizes white supremacy.”
Bannon continues to be a controversial figure even after President Donald Trump dismissed him from his administration in August. Many feel that the former executive chairman of the far-right Breitbart News Network has espoused deeply questionable views towards race and gender.
Activist Todd St. Hill, a protestor and resident of the South Side, says “Steve Bannon is not welcomed on the South Side. Everything that he is against exists on the South Side of Chicago. He’s a fascist. He is a white supremacist who promotes sexist and racists ideas while Black women live on the South Side of Chicago.”
In a written statement, Professor Zingales defended his invitation to Bannnon in response to Thursday’s protest:
“As a university our primary mission is to form new citizens of the world. As a business school our primary mission is to form new business leaders of the world. I can hardly think of a more important issue for new citizens and business leaders of the world than the backlash against globalization and immigration that is taking place not just in America, but in all the Western World. At the University of Chicago, we have some of the best economic minds of the planet. It is our civic duty to engage them in finding the causes of this backlash and in trying to address them. Whether you agree with him or not (and I personally do not), Mr. Bannon has come to interpret and represent this backlash in America. For this reason, I invited Mr. Bannon to a debate on these issues with our faculty. I firmly believe that the current problems in America cannot be solved by demonizing those who think differently, but by addressing the causes of their dissatisfaction. Hate cannot be defeated by hate, but only by reason.”
The university on Thursday also issued a statement:
“Professor Luigi Zingales of the Booth School of Business is planning an event with the tentative format of a debate on subjects including the economic benefits of globalization and immigration, and has invited Steve Bannon, former chief strategist and senior adviser in the Trump administration, to debate an expert in the field, with Zingales serving as moderator. More details will be available soon from the Booth School of Business.
“The University of Chicago is deeply committed to upholding the values of academic freedom, the free expression of ideas, and the ability of faculty and students to invite the speakers of their choice.
“Any recognized student group, faculty group, University department or individual faculty member can invite a speaker to campus. We recognize that there will be debate and disagreement over this event; as part of our commitment to free expression, the University supports the ability of protesters and invited speakers to express a wide range of views.”
While both Zingales and the university’s statements address “academic freedom” and upholds faculty inviting any guest, it did not answer all condemnations raised by students. Thursday’s protest not only called for a disinvite of Stephen Bannon, but brought forth larger criticism of the university’s hand in the systemic oppression of Chicago’s South Siders.
“…This university cares more about its “marketplace of ideas” and cozying up to big donors than it does to protecting the lives of marginalized students, staff, and faculty,” says Pelzman. “The university thinks that they can rapidly develop and gentrify Woodlawn, pushing family’s out of their homes. We are not letting that happen without a fight. The university has gotten away with militarizing the South Side and criminalizing Black bodies.”
No date has been set for Bannon’s arrival, but students will be preparing for it.