Soooo Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke at the graduating class of Historical Black college Bethune-Cookman University about a week or so ago, and as a sign of protest to her presence, the students turned their backs to her and booed her at almost every possible opportunity. The President of the university, Edison O. Jackson intervened DeVos’ remarks and sternly reprimanded those in attendance to quietly return to their seats, even threatening to mail home their diplomas if they did not show some respect and courtesy to the Secretary. The booing did continue, despite the threat from Jackson, and DeVos eventually finished her remarks.
First and foremost; Almost anyone who has graduated will tell you, The school mails you your diploma no matter what, the crossing the stage is mainly symbolic & ceremonious.
The give you an empty diploma sleeve. (Spoiler Alert)
The College President Edison O. Jackson, who invited her, defended his choice in The ‘Orlando Sentinel’ op-ed saying students don’t benefit when they are “only limited to perspectives that are broadly sanctioned by a specific community.”
Further in statement, President Jackson goes on to say:
“I am especially sensitive to balancing the notion of academic freedom with quelling potentially hateful and harmful rhetoric. The political and racial chasms in our county have deepened, and college presidents have struggled with these issues over the past few months. Some have rescinded invitations to potentially controversial speakers.
That is not my intention with DeVos. I am of the belief that it does not benefit our students to suppress voices that we disagree with, or to limit students to only those perspectives that are broadly sanctioned by a specific community.
One of the lasting hallmarks of higher education is its willingness to engage, explore and experience that which we deem as “other.” When we shelter our students and campus communities from views that are diametrically opposed to their own, we actually leave our students far less capable of combating those ideas.”
Days before her speech members of the B-CU community delivered a signed petition that had been over 50,000 signatures, requesting DeVos’ removal as commencement speaker. Reports made by the student body are that the choice with no contact or consideration with any of the school community.
For those who need a stroll down memory lane, DeVos, in her relatively short tenure, has already strained her relationships with HBCUs. During Black History Month, Devos peculiarly described HBCUs as “pioneers of school choice”. Which infuriated much of the African-American community who see HBCU’s as a by-product of necessity for African-Americans within a segregated American educational system intended on depriving them of educational opportunities. DeVos’ stance on voucher programs and school choice is also a source of anger with African-American community leaders.
The general consensus of the community at Bethune-Cookman University, and at most HBCU’s overall, is a willingness to engage in a respectful dialogue where all sides are provided an opportunity express their views. However, They have no wish to be educated by people (specifically persons of none color) who clearly do not understand their history, the role they have played in it as oppressors or within a state of privilege.
Ms. DeVos reaffirmed the #45 administration’s decision to restore year-round Pell Grants, which many low-income students use to finance their college educations. Although quietly, measures from Ms. DeVos’s department had taken that could affect hundreds of thousands students every day lives, such as Ms. DeVos’s decision to roll back Obama laid regulations and protections for student loan borrowers.
There seems to be a theme here. and it not clear if it is just a genuine but misguided attempt to ingratiate their institution to Miss DeVos for authentic “olive branch” symbolism OR if there is a financial implication. But this is not the first an HBCU leader as coozied up to the perceived “opposition/enemy”. and quite frankly it wont be the last.