- Bethune–Cookman University
Betsy DeVos was met with raucous boos as she reached the lectern to deliver her commencement remarks at Bethune-Cookman University on Wednesday.
For nearly the entire time the secretary of education spoke, she was booed, shouted at, and met with calls of “Go home!” from students and audience members.
About two minutes into DeVos’ speech, the university’s president, Edison Jackson, stopped her to address the students disrupting it.
Jackson said degrees would be mailed to students if their behavior continued.
“Choose which way you want to go,” he said.
DeVos restarted her speech, but the threat went unheeded as boos picked up again. DeVos powered on, sticking to prepared remarks. She addressed some of the opposition to her speaking at the historically black university in Daytona Beach, Florida, asking for those critical of her to hear her out and voicing her support for historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs.
“We support you, and we will continue to support you,” she said.
DeVos released a statement after the speech addressing BCU graduates. “I was grateful for the opportunity to speak with and honor the graduates of Bethune-Cookman University…I have respect for all those who attended, including those who demonstrated their disagreement with me,” the statement read.
The weeks leading up to her speech were marked by vocal opposition from students, civil-rights organizations, and Florida education groups, who say she does not understand the history and significance of HBCUs.
On Tuesday, petitions were delivered to university leaders urging them to disinvite DeVos from the commencement ceremony.
“Secretary DeVos has no understanding of the importance, contributions, and significance of HBCUs,” said a Change.org petition signed by more than 8,000 people.
Both DeVos and the Trump administration have endeavored to engage HBCUs in conversations about higher education, meeting with leaders of HBCUs and voicing support for their contributions.
But their efforts have been marked by gaffes and uncertainty about the administration’s plans to help better serve the institutions.
After meeting with leaders of HBCUs in February, DeVos ignited controversy with a statement that called HBCUs “real pioneers when it comes to school choice.”
She implied that HBCUs and school vouchers, of which DeVos is a fierce supporter, similarly afforded students better options.
HBCUs “are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality,” she said. “Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”
She failed to acknowledge that many HBCUs were created because black students could not attend white segregated schools. In other words, they weren’t providing better options – they were the only options for black students.
DeVos later posted a series of tweets clarifying the racist history that necessitated the emergence of HBCUs.
In a statement last week, President Donald Trump seemed to indicate that key funding for HBCUs might be unconstitutional and therefore scrapped. Experts saw his comments as a signal that certain funding for HBCUs was at risk. Trump later pledged his “unwavering support” for the schools.
Watch video of the speech: