Heifer Bye, Betsy DeVos Greeted By Boos During Commencement Speech

Heifer Bye, Betsy DeVos Greeted By Boos During Commencement Speech

Heifer Bye, Betsy DeVos Greeted By Boos During Commencement Speech

Despite some applause from student leaders and faculty in the front rows, the hecklers overwhelmed parts of DeVos' address, forcing her to raise her voice in order to be heard.

DeVos walked back her previous comments about HBCUs in a statement on Sunday released by the U.S. Department of Education: "I am happy to see the president reaffirmed this Administration's support for HBCUs". DeVos, who is a proponent of school choice - including charter schools and school vouchers - later clarified her remark, noting that historically black colleges were created because other institutions were not open to African-Americans.

African-American educators and students said DeVos' views were misdirected, because historically black colleges and universities, known as HBCUs, became established as a response to systems of racial segregation widely practiced in the United States during the first half of the 20th century and earlier. Perhaps no louder than when DeVos promised to go to the grave site of Mary McLeod Bethune later in the day to pay her respects, a promise almost drowned out by the sounds of shouting. "You don't even know the history of HBCUs, how are you going to encourage us for the future", she said.

DeVos cited the university founder Mary McLeod Bethune and the school motto, "Enter to learn, depart to serve", but interruptions from the crowd did not cease. "Please rescind her invitation to speak at the graduation ceremony".

As DeVos began to speak at the ceremony, students stood up from their seats and turned their backs on the education secretary.

Students were upset by the choice of DeVos, said Petra Merrick, a graduating senior who was editor of the college newspaper for the past two years.

"I'm so glad she's here", Harris said. "She's very transparent, she has a listening ear".

"As we have said repeatedly, be careful of the people you let in your place", Jackson said, seeming to acknowledge the criticism. Many students were already vocally against DeVos giving the speech anyway. "Bethune-Cookman University doesn't need a photo op from the Trump administration, we need action done by this administration for all HBCUs".

Jackson defended DeVos' appearance last week in an op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel.

Jackson, Bethune-Cookman's president, had been accused of selling out the school by offering DeVos an honorary doctoral degree and inviting her to address the student body.

Some students agreed with Jackson, that the school needs help from anyone offering it, no matter their party affiliation. But given her reception at the commencement address on Wednesday, DeVos may have a lot more work ahead of her to make amends.

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