- Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
More than 200 black professors from around the country have signed onto a "love letter
" to Bethune-Cookman University graduates who turned their backs and booed at Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a commencement speech
earlier this week.
Students from the historically black university in Daytona Beach booed
DeVos partially in response to her comment that HBCUs founded during racial segregation were the "real pioneers" of "school choice." Historically black schools began because African-American students were barred from attending schools with white students. The school's president, Edison O. Jackson, even told graduates their degrees would be mailed to them if their behavior continued. The graduates have been heavily criticized
by some who say their actions brought "shame and dishonor" on the college. But the hundreds of professors who signed onto an open letter to the graduates published on CASSIUS
say they were "elated" by the students' protest.
"The world watched you protest the speaker you never should have had," the letter says. "We cheered as we saw so many of you refuse to acquiesce in the face of threats and calls for complicity. Your actions fit within a long tradition of Black people fighting back against those who attack our institutions and our very lives with their anti-Black policies and anglo-normative practices. Betsy DeVos’ commitment to dismantling public education and her egregious framing of historically Black colleges and universities as 'pioneers' in school choice are just two examples of why she should never have been invited to speak at an event celebrating Black excellence."
Yaba Blay, a professor at North Carolina Central University, says on Twitter that she organized the effort because she wanted students to know how proud people were of them.
The Chronicle of Higher Education
reports the school's administration has since claimed that only 20 students protested DeVos' speech and 13 students were escorted out of the ceremony for disruption. The letter from the professors says Bethune-Cookman's administrators "hid behind the rhetoric of learning from people with divergent perspectives."
"You represent the best of Mother Mary McLeod Bethune who took the little she had and built an institution that remains committed to bringing out the best in us," the letter says. "You are the best of us."
Read the rest of the letter to Bethune-Cookman grads here