DeVos booed speaking at historically black university

Many at the historically black Bethune-Cookman University simply turned their backs on her.

Clifford Porter, assistant vice president for institutional advancement, said while the university is "very aware of the misstatement", he hoped Wednesday's event would be an opportunity to educate DeVos about HBCUs.

"One of the hallmarks of higher education and of democracy" she said, "is the ability to converse with and learn from those with whom we disagree".

"I am honored to become a Wildcat", DeVos said after Bethune-Cookman's President Dr. Edison Jackson introduced her to speak at the podium.

During the ceremony, DeVos, U.S. Education Secretary, received an honorary doctorate degree from the school and was scheduled to speak for an hour as the official commencement speaker. "Please know this, we support you and we will continue to support you", she continued.

"Choose which way you want to go", Jackson said.

This is published unedited from the IANS feed.

The tense moment was the culmination of a contentious week between students of the historically-black college in Daytona, Florida, and the secretary. Still, Devos' choice of Bethune-Cookman University as the site of her first commencement address shows she is making an effort to show respect for HBCUs.

Students reportedly planned to protest the day's proceedings and delivered over 50,000 signatures to Bethune administrator's offices. "While we may share differing points of view, my visit and dialogue with students leaves me encouraged and committed to supporting HBCUs".

On Twitter, images and videos of defiant graduating students inspired others to echo similar disapproval of DeVos with tweets carrying the hashtag #BacksToBetsy. In February, she called historically black colleges and universities "pioneers" of "school choice," and while she also talked about historical systemic racism denying blacks education, her widely quoted remarks were taken by some as ignorant or racist.

President Donald Trump's nomination of DeVos, a Republican fundraiser with no classroom experience, was so controversial that Vice President Mike Pence had to cast a tie-breaking vote for her Senate confirmation. Ultimately, the petition was unsuccessful, and despite the outrage and boos from students at the commencement on Wednesday, DeVos completed her speech, which focused on listening to and respecting diverse perspectives.

The B-CU petition also objects to DeVos's recent withdrawal of protections the Obama administration put in place for students who have mismanaged or are defaulting on their student loans. "Secretary DeVos has no understanding of the importance, contributions, and significance of HBCUs", it continued.

Jackson had been accused of selling out the school by inviting DeVos.

  • Larry Hoffman