by JACOB VEIL
On March 22, former Billboard chart leader B.o.B performed at the annual Big Spring Concert, planned by the Campus Programming Board. B.o.B’s performance kicked off at 8 p.m. at Dodd Auditorium with roughly 500 students in attendance, according to Director of Student Activities and Engagement Sandrine Sutphin. Because of the rapper’s belief in conspiracy theories and past controversial statements, some students were concerned about him performing at UMW.
According to Sutphin, UMW is paying $30,000 for B.o.B’s performance, which comes from student tuition fees.
“We didn’t announce [his performance] until after we signed the contract,” said Sutphin. “Because we were contractually obligated, if we tried to cancel we would have still had to pay him that $30,000, and that doesn’t feel like a good use of student fees either. And so it’s definitely a tough situation to be in.”
Some students were upset with the decision to use student tuition fees to book B.o.B.
“I think that school should be funding different things such as tuition assistance, and some money could be allocated differently to help students more,” said senior Keegan Frederick, a political science major.
The Campus Programming Board members issued a statement on their Instagram account but declined to comment for this story.
“While CPB accepts a performer’s right to creativity, any external performers invited for a performance on our campus do not by any means express an endorsement or approval of the performer’s personal ideals on behalf of CPB or the University of Mary Washington,” the statement said.
“The reason that they put out that statement was that they had received, I believe, three messages, private messages,” said Sutphin. “I heard that there were also comments on Yik Yak but we can’t really do much with something that is shared anonymously.”
Sutphin continued, “I think if the overwhelming response had been do not bring him to campus, like I think if there had been a majority of students who signed a petition … we definitely would have had that conversation to say, ‘we don’t we don’t want to bring him to campus.’ At that point, we’d only received three messages and again, not to discount their perspective and their opinions and their feelings about it.”
According to Sutphin, the Programming Board sent out surveys to allow students to choose the performer for the Big Spring Concert, and B.o.B won. By the time that three students direct messaged the Campus Programming Board, UMW had already signed the contract for his performance.
The Campus Programming Board will be “updating the survey to include an area to express any hesitations or reservations you may have on the artists presented,” according to their statement. They also encouraged students to participate in the productions cabinet or reach out to the Board’s advisors to further the discussion.
B.o.B has performed at Virginia Tech and Washington and Lee University in recent weeks and has been invited to perform at Duke University in the future, Sutphin said.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, B.o.B released a single titled “Flatlines” where he mentions conspiracies he believes in. In the song, he asks the audience to “Do their own research on David Irving” and says that “Stalin was way worse than Hitler, that’s why the POTUS gotta wear a kippah.” “Kippah” is Hebrew for a yarmulke or Jewish skullcap. The song “invokes the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory of Jewish control of the U.S. government and promotes a notorious Holocaust denier by name,” the Anti-Defamation League said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes David Irving as “the world’s most prominent Holocaust denier.”
Rabbi Menachem Sherman, the campus director of UMW Hillel, said, “UMW Hillel does not harbor any bitterness or ill will towards CPB or any students who attended what sounded like a very entertaining concert. It is unfortunate that B.o.B has amplified the widely discredited work of David Irving. This university has students whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors and Holocaust denial is especially painful for those students. Often cloaked in academic language, these Holocaust deniers belittle the most tragic period of our Jewish history.”
Sherman also said he would love to further the discussion with others.
“I’d love to use this as an opportunity to educate others on how and why these conspiracies have contributed to extremely high levels of anti-semitism still existing in our country today,” he said.
Some students said they did not want their tuition money going to B.o.B because of his views.
“It’s disappointing, especially because some of my tuition was given to me by my Jewish relatives goes to B.o.B,” said senior Alexander Regan, a political science major.
Other students said that B.o.B has a lack of notability.
“His only notable performance is that he did something with airplanes, like, 10 years ago, and that’s the only thing I’ve ever heard from him,” said sophomore Ryan Llufrio, a history major.