DeVos Speech At HBCU Graduation Opposed By Students, Alumni
Betsy DeVos' next scheduled speech is a controversial one.
The US Secretary of Eduction is set to deliver the keynote address at Bethune-Cookman University's commencement ceremony on Wednesday, despite significant pushback from students and graduates.
One of those graduates is Dominik Whitehead, an alumnus who, while open to the idea of Secretary DeVos speaking at Bethune-Cookman, a historically black university, under different circumstances, has protested her specific role at the Wednesday's ceremony.
Whitehead told Elite Daily,
I think it would be a tad bit tone deaf having her speak to graduates at this university based off some of the statements and some of the actions this administration has shown over its first three or four months.
Whitehead is not alone.
On Tuesday, he helped deliver over 60,000 signatures to the office of the school's president, Ed Jackson, calling for the removal of Secretary DeVos from the commencement ceremony.
The petition was signed by not only students and alumni, Whitehead says, but also "supporters around the country."
Elsewhere, the Florida chapter of the NAACP, had said in a statement the decision to invite DeVos was a "slap in the face to minorities, women and all communities of color."
The opposition to DeVos' speech at B-CU follows a trend that has been consistent since the billionaire sat down for her hearings to become nation's 11th Secretary of Education.
Wherever she has gone, polarization has followed.
During her confirmation process, the 59-year-old's lack of experience in the education sector and donations to the Republican party made her nomination controversial from the start.
As for her relationship with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), in particular, it's clear where proponents of the predominantly black institutions have taken issue with DeVos and the Trump administration.
Among other things, the Trump administration drew concern this month over what many saw as a veiled threat to decrease funding to HBCUs.
The administration is also accused of using HBCU leaders for a "photo-op," after inviting deans and presidents to the White House for the signing of an executive order that has been criticized as having little tangible effects.
Most notably, though, it was during the week that HBCU leaders visited the White House that DeVos called the institutions "pioneers when it comes to school choice," despite the fact that the establishment of HBCUs was made necessary by the lack of choice black students faced due to racism.
Despite DeVos having apologized and clarified her statements the next day, it's clear that opponents still hold the comments against her. Whitehead told Elite Daily,
To have the secretary of education not aware of what a historical black college is and the importance of the historical black colleges and the contributions they have made to society and the world makes that unsettling.
When it comes to actual policy, president Trump's lack of increase in funding to HBCUs within his blueprint for the federal budget, disappointed some.
Meanwhile, DeVos' role in rescinding President Obama's student loan protection plans is one of the reasons students at Bethune-Cookman oppose the secretary's commencement speech, according to graduating senior Shawana Watt.
Watt, who doesn't consider herself a part of the opposition, told Elite Daily she understands why other graduating students are upset. She says,
We work too hard for our special day to be about who is speaking. The graduates should be getting all the attention not her.
The university did not respond to Elite Daily's request for comment. However, president Ed Jackson has been consistent in his defense of the decision to invite DeVos.
After the invitation was announced last week, Jackson noted in a statement that his school's founder, Mary-McLeod Bethune, worked with figures of different political walks of life.
Jackson repeated that point in an op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel, pointing out Bethune's relationship with leaders such as John D. Rockefeller.
These leaders represented diverse political and social views, and Bethune invited them all to visit and support her institution. It is in that same vein that I have invited DeVos to speak.
That invitation will be taken on Wednesday afternoon. Whether graduates will be receptive to Secretary Devos' speech, however, looks far from certain.