Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative commentator who made headlines last week for an insensitive tweet about the survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, spoke at Yale on Wednesday evening as part of the Yale Undergraduate Speaker Series. D’Souza, whose arrival provoked the ire of many on campus, addressed an audience of 80 students and local residents in a packed room before responding to questions from the audience.
During the public event, sponsored by the Young America’s Foundation, D’Souza discussed what he sees as the “incendiary atmosphere” of intellectual discourse in America after President Donald Trump’s election.
“Since Trump’s election there have been a whole bunch of issues that have surfaced, none of which have actually been seriously debated [including tax reform, health care and gun reform],” D’Souza said. “What you essentially have is an incendiary atmosphere in which people say things and you sort of get violent reactions that are a triumph of attitude and emotion over intelligence and this has become governing mode of communication in America today.”
Spencer Brown, the spokesperson for the YAF, told the News that Yale students approached the YAF about bringing D’Souza to campus and that the YAF has worked with the Yale Political Union in the past to bring other conservative speakers to Yale. He did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon about who at Yale was in contact with the YAF.
Steven Tian ’20, chair of the Student Organizations Director of the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee, said that he could not find any record of who hosted D’Souza’s event, but Tian confirmed that the UOFC provided no funding for the event.
“Dinesh D’Souza is abominable and indefensible,” he said. “We cannot, do not, and will not support events that promote division and nonsense. This event is divisive and the UOFC will not ever provide funding for speakers like D’Souza who mock children who have been involved in a school shooting.”
D’Souza drew national media attention last week when, in the wake of the Parkland, Florida shooting and the Florida legislature’s subsequent decision to not discuss a ban on assault weapons, he tweeted “worst news since their parents told them to get a summer job.” D’Souza later apologized for the tweet, which he called “insensitive” at the Wednesday event.
Andrew Sabl, a visiting professor in Ethics, Politics and Economics department, said that while D’Souza’s comments on the shooting are “loathsome,” they are also “far from the most loathsome thing he’s ever said.” At the Wednesday event, D’Souza said that Democrats “invented the doctrine of white supremacy” and that the opposition to Civil Rights originated from Democrats. He also often disparages gay marriage, liberalism and feminism.
D’Souza also pled guilty in 2014 to a felony charge for making an illegal campaign contribution to a 2012 United States Senate campaign.
“Any group that invites him should be ashamed of itself,” Sabl said.
During the public event, D’Souza also discussed what he considers “the bogus narratives” that conceal “what happens in America.”
He said that the reason Americans have not had substantive debates on key issues is because accusations of fascism and racism leveled against the Republican party since November 2016 have stifled conversation.
“[Progressives have] moved fascism from the left-wing column, where it’s always been, to the right-wing column so [they] can now use it as a bludgeon against enemies,” D’Souza said.
Some students, who appeared not to agree with D’Souza’s ideology, laughed at him at various points during the event.
But not everyone at the event came to mock the speaker. Other attendees interviewed emphasized the importance of having a space to hear those with opposing views.
“Regardless of the content of his talk, attempting to shut down his speech or drown it out is completely wrong and a violation of every value the University should stand for,” Sabl said. “No one should invite him. No student group should be stupid and bigoted enough to invite him. But they should have the right to do so.”
Eric Wallach ’21, who said he has attended over 40 speaker events on campus this year, agreed that having an environment in which speakers across the political spectrum can speak and be heard by students is important. And while he disagrees D’Souza’s opinions, Niam Shah ’21 said that he was interested in hearing what D’Souza had to say.
The YAF, which sponsored D’Souza’s talk on Wednesday, aims to help students across the country advance conservative ideas on college campuses, which are often inhospitable to conservative views, Spencer Brown, the YAF spokesperson, told the News.
“As far as tonight’s lecture goes, a lot of universities have a pretty liberal slant to the professors and faculty and to what ideas students are able to hear,” Brown said. “So bringing in a conservative like Dinesh D’Souza who has a large profile allows conservative students at universities like Yale to go ahead and spread their ideas to their student body when they normally wouldn’t have the chance to hear them.”
Charles Hill, a professor at the Jackson Institute, pointed out that public speeches are meant to influence others and inflammatory remarks often achieve that result.
Sabl stressed that responses such as written expressions of opinion and peaceful or raucous protest are appropriate responses to speeches that are as “intellectually bankrupt, morally reprehensible and shockingly racist” as D’Souza’s rhetoric.
The Young America’s Foundation was founded in 1969 by students at Vanderbilt University.
Chloe Glass | firstname.lastname@example.org
Clarification, March 1: The article has been updated to provide better context to Andrew Sabl’s quote. Sabl, who did not attend the D’Souza talk on Monday, in fact was referring to D’Souza and his work in general when he was quoted as saying “intellectually bankrupt, morally reprehensible and shockingly racist.”