U.S.

Betsy DeVos booed by audience during her speech at historically black university

Betsy DeVos booed by audience during her speech at historically black university

The protests gradually subsided with DeVos finishing her speech and requesting a call for understanding from the graduating students.

An online petition managed to collect signatures from about 60,000 people who didn't want DeVos at Bethune-Cookman.

Some students turned their backs on DeVos during her opening remarks.

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.

DeVos said the Trump administration is fully committed to the students' success. But given her reception at the commencement address on Wednesday, DeVos may have a lot more work ahead of her to make amends.

Critics say that statement showed just how out of touch DeVos is with some of the populations she serves as education secretary.

The booing became an uproar again mid-speech, when DeVos said she would be visiting the grave of the school's founder. Jackson stopped, then said, "You don't know her, you don't know her story".




"One of the lasting hallmarks of higher education is its willingness to engage, explore, and experience that which we deem as 'other, '" school president Edison Jackson wrote in a statement on the day DeVos was announced as the speaker.

Jackson, the university president, defended the invitation, saying it benefits students to hear from those with controversial ideals and differing beliefs.

HBCUs, of course, were founded during segregation when black students were barred from attending white colleges in the South and beyond. "If this behavior continues, we can mail the degrees to you", he said, Florida Today reported. "We need everyone to be a part of this continuation of our institution". And while we will undoubtedly disagree at times, I hope we can do so respectfully.

At the ceremony Wednesday, Jackson interrupted DeVos shortly into her address in order to quiet graduates in the crowd, some of whom had risen to their feet to turn their backs on DeVos in protest. Numerous graduating students turned their backs physically to DeVos as well in protest, with things getting so raucous at one point that Jackson interrupted her to warn students that if they continued, "degrees will be mailed" to them instead.

During the ceremony, DeVos, U.S. Education Secretary, received an honorary doctorate degree from the school and was scheduled to speak for an hour as the official commencement speaker.

"We are all here to applaud your perseverance and to encourage each of you to keep working to reach your full potential", a visibly rattled DeVos told the crowd.


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