The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Professor fired after defending blacks-only event to Fox News. ‘I was publicly lynched,’ she says.

Earlier this month, political commentator Lisa Durden gave a fiery interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News, defending a Black Lives Matter chapter’s decision to host a Memorial Day event exclusively for black people.

“Boo-hoo-hoo,” Lisa Durden, who is also an adjunct professor at Essex County College in Newark, said in the June 6 television appearance. “You white people are angry because you couldn’t use your ‘white privilege’ card to get invited to the Black Lives Matter’s all-black Memorial Day celebration.”

In the heated exchange, Carlson responded by calling her “hostile and separatist and crazy.”

“You’re demented actually,” he said. “You’re sick and what you’re saying is disgusting and if you were a Nazi I would say the same thing to you.”

Durden’s remarks spurred both criticism and praise on social media. But what happened less than 48 hours later prompted an even stronger reaction.

On June 8, with about a week left of her summer session of teaching, Durden’s employers at Essex County College suspended her. About two weeks later, Durden was fired from the community college.

The college’s president announced the decision in a lengthy statement Friday, days after Durden met with school officials in a community forum.

Anthony E. Munroe, Essex County College president, said the administration was “immediately inundated with feedback from students, faculty and prospective students and their families expressing frustration, concern and even fear that the views expressed by a College employee (with influence over students) would negatively impact their experience on the campus.”

“In consideration of the College’s mission, and the impact that this matter has had on the College’s fulfillment of its mission, we cannot maintain an employment relationship with the adjunct,” Munroe said in the statement.

But Durden said the firing was unjust and baseless. She claimed “there was no due process, there were no facts.”

“I was publicly lynched,” Durden said in an interview with The Washington Post. “They didn’t let me finish the class and they disrupted the learning process.”

Durden — who began her first semester of teaching at the school in January — was wrapping up the first summer session of classes and was already scheduled for the fall semester. As an adjunct professor, she teaches classes on subjects such as mass communication and popular culture.

She said she was given no reason for the suspension, though a human resources representative explained to her verbally that it was in part because she identified her relationship to the college in the interview, Durden said. This was not the case — the show simply identified her as a political commentator.

“I had a right to free speech, and I exercised that right,” Durden said.

Durden, whose media commentary focuses on issues such as pop culture, race and politics, said she was invited onto “Tucker Carlson Tonight” to discuss the Black Lives Matter event. She did not choose the subject of the conversation, she said.

“This particular day was a hard topic,” Durden said. “It was a debate. It was not meant to be something that was an easy conversation.”

Any time commentators discuss a controversial topic on television, there will be people who agree and disagree, Durden said. There were many people on social media commending her statements, and yet the university chose to take actions as a result of the negative responses, Durden said.

Essex County College is federally designated as a Predominantly Black Institution and a Hispanic Serving Institution. It has a large black student population and its new president, Munroe, is black.

“I am that population,” Durden said. “I live in Newark. I was born and raised in Newark.”

“I decided to come back to Newark because this is my community,” she added.

In his statement, Munroe said the college “supports and affirms the right of free speech and independent views and expressions of those views for our faculty and staff.” But he added that it denounces “any conduct that implies that all students are not welcome to participate in, or benefit from, our programs or activities on the basis of their race, color, orientation or national origin.”

Durden told The Post that in retrospect, she wishes she would have made clear in her interview on Fox News that when she mentioned “white people” she referred only to the white people who were upset about the Black Lives Matter event.

“I will apologize if a person assumed I meant all white people,” Durden said. “I never meant all white people.”

“All white people aren’t racist,” she said.

Her remarks — in which she compared the Black Lives Matter event to a wedding that excludes children — drew intense backlash on social media. Many commended the college’s decision over the weekend, calling her a “disgusting racist,” “angry racist” and “racist pig.” One conservative writer called her a “Black Supremacist.”

Many of these accusations and portrayals feed into existing stereotypes about black women, Durden said.

“When you’re an African American woman,” she said, “when you are your personality, you are called an angry black woman.”

“Reverse racism,” she added, “doesn’t exist.”

The phrase Black Lives Matter got national attention in summer 2014. Here's how the phrase became a movement. (Video: Claritza Jimenez, Julio Negron/The Washington Post)

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