By Andrew Pillow
Bethune-Cookman, one of the nation’s most well-known Historically Black Universities, caught a lot of flack when they decided to invite the United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos to give the commencement speech at their graduation.
Betsy DeVos is not a very popular person in HBCU circles as of late for a variety of reasons:
- The Trump administration recently questioned rather or not a key source of funding for HBCUs was constitutional after initially pledging to support them in a meeting earlier this year.
- After that same meeting, Betsy DeVos referred to HBCUs as early pioneers of “school choice”. A statement that critics took issue with as most HBCUs were founded in response to segregation.
- Betsy DeVos also recently weakened the consumer protection for student loan borrowers.
- This is all on top of her already controversial stances on private and public schools which have not been well received particularly in the black community.
Still the President of Bethune – Cookman, Edison O. Jackson, defended his decision in an op-ed to the Orlando Sentinel:
“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.” Said Jackson
This did not quell the students or alumni of the school however. A petition was started on Change.org to stop the commencement speech. The petition cited that a commencement speech is not the appropriate forum for a cross ideological dialogue. The petition received over 8,000 signatures.
However, Jackson did not rescind the invite and Betsy DeVos still gave the commencement speech. Or at least she attempted to. DeVos was booed from the very start. Many students even turned their backs. At one point President Jackson threatened to mail diplomas home if students were not more respectful. The threat didn’t work, Students actually very noticeably booed louder.
See the video of the incident below: (via: CNN)