Betsy Devos to Give Bethune Cookman Commencement Address

By Free Radical 
57c5cbbb781c4d8a8165a4a9f58bff21_18Last week, Bethune Cookman University, an HBCU in Daytona Beach, Florida, announced that Secretary of Education Betsy Devos would give their commencement address on May 10.

The official announcement likened Devos, to Bethune-Cookman’s famous founder Mary McLeod Bethune, a pioneer of both civil and women’s rights: “Much like Dr. Bethune, Founder of Bethune-Cookman University, Secretary DeVos deems the importance of opportunity and hope for students to receive an exceptional education experience.”

This statement and the overall selection of Devos have drawn the ire of BC alumni and other African-Americans. Along with aligning herself with the deeply unpopular Donald Trump, Devos is a staunch advocate of school choice. Though many African-Americans support school choice in some form of another, many consider the Education Secretary to be on the extreme. Her advocacy of things such as charter schools, private schools, homeschooling etc. involves the massive reduction of revenue for traditional public schools where the majority of Black and Brown students are educated.

Moreover, the Trump administration has deliberately sought out strategic, albeit controversial alliances with HBCUs, most notably the president’s invitation of dozens of HBCU presidents to the White House in February. The lack of faith many HBCU alumni had of the meeting was generally confirmed as the conference has not resulted in any meaningful reforms or additional support for Black colleges.

Nonetheless, it seems like some HBCUs such as Bethune-Cookman are maintaining hope that a relationship with the Trump administration could bear fruit. B-CU’s official announcement subtly expressed this sentiment in saying, “students are directly impacted by funding dollars that are dispersed through the Department of Education. B-CU receives $4 million annually through Title III, which supports teaching, research and infrastructure. Additionally, Title IV impacts the ability of B-CU students to receive federal financial aid, overall influencing the ascension of Bethune-Cookman University students.”

Alumni of the school have initiated an aggressive campaign to prevent Devos from speaking. An online petition on to cancel Devos’s speech has garnered more than 5,000 supporters so far. It points out that Devos made the controversial and historically inaccurate statement that HBCU’s were pioneers of school choice when in fact they were established because Blacks lacked choices given the staunch nature of Jim Crown in the North and South.

And in contradicting the school’s official statement, the petition read “We, the proud alumni of Bethune-Cookman University, understand the importance of engagement and open communication HBCUs must have with all levels of government; therefore instead of inviting Secretary DeVos to graduation, let’s welcome her to the table and have meaningful dialogue about stronger policies, the White House HBCU Initiative, and the importance and contributions of HBCUs.”


Update: On Friday, in a signing statement of an omnibus spending bill, Donald Trump wrote that he would treat a program which helps HBCUs get low-cost loans “in a manner consistent with the (Constitutional) requirement to afford equal protection of the laws.” The assumption of the statement is that he may consider this provision preferential and unconstitutional treatment for African-Americans based on race and thus may target this policy, first enacted in 1992, for elimination.


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