Boise State University officials say the cancellation of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event featuring African-American civil rights activist Angela Davis is due to security concerns from national unrest and the upcoming presidential inauguration.
“In light of national events, we have been in ongoing dialogue with law enforcement,” university spokesperson Sherry Squires wrote in an email statement Thursday. “In response to security concerns, we have made the decision to temporarily pause hosting public events.”
The FBI is warning of armed protests at all 50 state capitals and Washington, D.C., in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20., according to the Associated Press.
Davis is an author, educator and political activist well-known for her involvement in early Black Power movements, including in the areas of feminism, Black liberation, anti-capitalism and prison abolition. She was affiliated with the Black Panthers and similar groups, ran on the U.S. Communist Party’s presidential ticket in the ‘80s, and was tried and acquitted in 1972 of charges related to the armed takeover of a California courtroom.
Boise State’s MLK Jr. Living Legacy Committee had invited Davis to speak on Jan. 25 via Zoom, part of the committee’s annual week of events commemorating MLK and Idaho Human Rights Day. Usually, students, faculty and other Boise State community members march to the Idaho State Capitol and host several events throughout the week.
University officials say they chose to cancel and postpone Davis’s keynote speech along with other “public-facing” MLK events, the university’s Distinguished Lecture series and other school events planned for early in the semester to protect the safety of students and staff. Squires said even remote “high profile” events could pose a risk to organizers and promoters.
“Boise State always welcomes a variety of perspectives, and we want our students to benefit from the meaningful dialogue they bring,” Squires wrote in the statement. “We have a long and proud history of celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day and of bringing speakers to our campus who challenge us to think deeply about important societal issues. We apologize to our students, faculty, and staff, who put work into planning events, and we look forward to re-scheduling and hosting any events that have been impacted.”
The cancellation angered local activists and community members, who alleged on social media the university canceled Davis’ speaking event to avoid criticism or bad press from hosting Davis. Black community organizers and the Indigenous Idaho Alliance are trying to raise $15,000 to cover speaking fees for Davis, who they say has agreed to still appear at a “Virtual Story Circle” at 6 p.m. Jan. 25.
“The students, advisers, storytellers, and other vital members of the planning of this event were extremely heartbroken and enraged by the continual lack of support via Boise State University’s administration,” organizers wrote on a GoFundMe page originally published Jan. 14. “All parties involved knew, in this time of heightened exposure to racist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic (+) public attacks, the wisdom of this event and Dr. Davis was profoundly needed. Boise State University has continually allowed minoritized people to be attacked by ideological and physical intimidation & violence.”
The GoFundMe page also includes a statement from Boise State officials, which organizers said was sent to the MLK Living Legacy Committee on Wednesday.
“Given the historically unprecedented context, and to prioritize safety for students and our community, we won’t be hosting events that may increase exposure of our students or others as targets,” the statement says. “While we believe that the university is a place where people should come together to discuss polarizing issues and be presented with new ideas, that at this moment the risk is too great to host these kinds of events.”
About 70 people had contributed more than $3,000 to the GoFundMe page as of Thursday evening. Squires told the Statesman the university plans to reschedule all previously planned or paused events, but she didn’t have a timeline for when those events would resume.