When Aryssa Damron ’18 took a seat across from conservative Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson in a New York television studio on Saturday morning, she had no delusions about the backlash she would get from Yale students back on campus.
“I expected [criticism], and I expect it to continue during my four years at Yale regardless of whether I’m on Fox again,” Damron said in an interview with the News.
On national television, Damron criticized the Yale Divinity School’s decision to bring political activist DeRay McKesson to guest lecture a two-day course on leadership, claiming that McKesson is unqualified to teach at Yale. McKesson, a civil rights activist who has been involved with protests in Ferguson and Baltimore, is also credited with marshaling #BlackLivesMatter protestors using Twitter and other social media. After dismissing McKesson as a “random Twitter star,” Damron went on to portray Yale’s political climate as hostile to conservatives like her.
McKesson is regarded by many activists as a national leader in the civil rights movement. Still, Damron and Carlson questioned his abilities as a teacher. The two criticized McKesson for inflaming racial tensions, using inflammatory language themselves.
Carlson, during his interview with Damron, said McKesson was “not an impressive guy, just kind of a race hustler,” and added that McKesson makes “totally unfounded, stupid claims.”
Within hours of the show’s airing, students on the Facebook page Overheard at Yale were calling for Damron to withdraw from Yale, and some commenters made personal attacks, including asking her to stay away from campus. Others questioned her qualifications for even speaking on the matter.
“I’m all for open debate on this man’s qualifications, but personal attacks on Aryssa based on her own opinion is something that has no place at any university, much less at Yale,” said Julie Slama ’18, a friend of Damron’s. “The Overheard at Yale post should have been taken down.”
Others debated the merits and flaws of her arguments, both on the Facebook post and in conversations afterward.
Isaac Cohen ’16 said that while conservatives at Yale often receive uncharitable criticism for their viewpoints, Damron’s response should have been to argue back, not play the victim.
“[Damron’s] complaints about Yale’s climate are almost certainly exaggerated. Yale students aren’t victims,” said Cohen, who recently wrote a column with a similar message in the News.
In the wake of the interview, Divinity School administrators reiterated their support of McKesson’s presence as a guest lecturer this fall. Divinity School Director of Communications Tom Krattenmaker said solving issues like civil rights, racial inequality and a discriminatory criminal justice system are the missions of Christian churches across the country.
McKesson could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
“Working for social justice has a strong theological component, in our view,” Krattenmaker said, adding that the Divinity School prepares its students “by bringing in speakers with experience and expertise in a wide range of endeavors relevant to [their] interests and future career paths.”
Divinity students who are taking McKesson’s course said his leadership record with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the religious applications of his work qualify him to teach the course.
“The Divinity School’s leadership recognize that its students, many of whom worship a God of justice and love, have a lot to learn from such a man,” Samuel Ernest DIV ’17 said.