Aisha Tyler Tells African-American Students To ‘Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone’

Aisha Tyler, co-host of The Talk, and graduate of Dartmouth, told Money this week that African-American students should consider opting for a college that is not similar to their high school environment to “test” themselves. Not everyone appreciates her comments, however, with some interpreting her words as a slight against HBCUs — historically black colleges and universities.

Money reported that, with racial incidents occurring on campuses, students might be reluctant to attend schools where they are part of a minority. Tyler said she chose Dartmouth because of its commitment to teaching and didn’t mind being one of the college’s few African-American students. Although a racially-charged incident happened just prior to her arrival, she remained committed to pursuing her education there.

“I told my high school counselor I was going to Dartmouth, and he asked me: ‘Why go to a school where that happened?’ It’s not for everybody. You have to decide what you can tolerate.

“What would we be like if black people didn’t go into the heart and didn’t try to change things? We would have made no progress in the country. Bravery is the engine of change.”

Tyler said she had an ancestor who escaped slavery and eventually built a business in the same state where he was once owned. When asked to provide advice to African-American youth considering colleges, she recommended they think broadly about the kind of experience they want.

“I’d say, ‘Step out of your comfort zone. Don’t pick a college that replicates what you did in high school. Test yourself in an unfamiliar context so that you can learn to succeed no matter where you are placed, so that you know you can excel.”

But BET blogger Evelyn Diaz called Tyler’s comments, “shady,” starting when Tyler asserted she didn’t mind being part of the small African-American community at Dartmouth because she “wanted to interact with other types of folks,” and still enjoy the school’s tight-knit group of black students. Diaz also highlighted Tyler’s assertion that even though racism may not be overt on all campuses, people can still hold racist thoughts they are not saying aloud.

“There you go, high school seniors: be brave and go to a predominantly-white, ideally racist school, where your fellow students might leave nasty messages on your dorm room door.”

Atlanta Blackstar noted in its report on Tyler’s comments that black students at non-HBCUs have taken stands against racism, including at a recent political rally featuring a presidential candidate and in protests against the use of a racial term and act of violence by a university vice-president against an African-American woman. However, the site also points out that some scholars believe HBCUs better cater to the intellectual needs of African-American students.

'The Talk' cast

Tyler told back in April, 2014, that after getting her degree at Dartmouth, she’d assumed she would enter a profession — like becoming a lawyer or astronaut — not knowing she would eventually turn into a successful comedian, actor, and television personality.

“I did sketch and improv in high school, then in college I was in an a cappella singing group. I just always loved performing, but didn’t think that it was a way to make a living.”

That changed after she saw cerebral comedian Steven Wright, whose carefully crafted jokes were part of her inspiration to quit work in corporate America and try to make a living as an entertainer. Since then she’s racked up an impressive collection of acting, writing, and directing credits, including her work on Friends, Talk Soup, and the animated series Archer.

She also spearheaded a successful Kickstarter campaign to create the film Axis, raising in excess of her $150,000 goal just this spring.

She also tours with her stand-up act and hosts a podcast just to keep busy when not voicing one of the characters on Archer or sitting at the chat table of The Talk, which airs weekdays on CBS.

[Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images]