Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was jeered by graduates during her commencement speech Wednesday at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college. As DeVos spoke to graduates, delivering her first commencement address in her new role, the booing continued.
DeVos, a particularly unpopular appointee of the Trump administration, seemed intent on giving her congratulations and "wise" words to the students in caps and gowns, but the persistent boos from the students and audience drowned her out. Many graduating students turned their back to her in protest.
"Right now is not the time for Secretary DeVos to speak at any historically black college", said Dominik Whitehead, a Bethune-Cookman alumnus who led one of two petition drives asking the school to rescind DeVos' invitation.
DeVos came under fire herself in February for framing HBCUs as "real pioneers when it comes to school choice", a reference to her desire to move toward a more privatized education system in the US.
But given her reception at the commencement address on Wednesday, DeVos may have a lot more work ahead of her to make amends. "The legacy of Dr. Bethune is that she was not constrained by political ideology, but worked across all parties to support B-CU", university president Edison O. Jackson said, as reported by the Huffington Post.
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Some leaders of historically black colleges and universities later expressed dismay when Trump invited them to the Oval Office for a "listening session" that became an apparent photo-op for Black History Month.
"One of the hallmarks of higher education and of democracy is the ability to converse with and learn from those with whom we disagree", DeVos told the graduates.
Clifford Porter, assistant vice president for institutional advancement, said while the university is "very aware of the misstatement", he hoped Wednesday's event would be an opportunity to educate DeVos about HBCUs.
Was the booing and the protests against DeVos warranted at the graduation ceremony?
But the university said students are free to protest as long as it doesn't disrupt the graduation ceremony.
"We have not and will not seek to chill the free speech of our students and faculty, as we support the free exchange of alternative ideas in all academic efforts", the university administration said in a statement.