On Wednesday, May 10 of 2017, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke at Bethune-Cookman University, located in Florida. When the decision was announced last week, petitions and protests arose; many different people wanted the fifty-nine-year-old to cancel the speech, stating “Bethune-Cookman University doesn’t need a photo-op from the Trump Administration” and that “we need action done by this administration for all HBCUs.” Regardless of the controversy, Betsy Devos still woke up that morning and gave a speech for the students and alumni of the university.
As expected, the students and alumni were not pleased. When Omarosa, an advisor to Donald Trump, was introduced, the booing started—and it only grew louder as Secretary DeVos came out and received her honorary doctorate from the President of the university, Edison Jackson. Graduates turned their backs in defiance and shouts were thrown into the air. The students were not willing to participate in the Trump Administration’s empty gesture. Despite the growing outrage, the administration of the school continued to do their best to placate and silence the students.
This article is not about the speech, though. This article is not about Betsy Devos—and it’s not even about Donald Trump. This article is about Edison Jackson: President of Bethune-Cookman University. The man who invited Betsy DeVos to speak at the historically-black college.
I’ll admit that there’s a part of me that wants to understand and sympathize with him. With Trump’s administration constantly showing their lack of care and understanding towards HBCUs, inviting Secretary DeVos to the school is an interesting way to keep their presence on the table—in theory.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a typical Republican administration. This is Donald Trump’s administration. This is the administration of a man that has consistently accused our first black President of not being a citizen. This is the administration of a man that is trying to pass a bill that will take away healthcare from millions, that has made acne and domestic abuse a pre-existing condition. This is an administration that has no value of truth to them—no value of merit and esteem. This is an administration that won an election through hate and Russian hacking.
Mr. Jackson, you have truly failed as a university president. When you invite someone to speak at your school’s graduation, the first thing that should be done is making sure that the speaker can relate to the students—and that they should have the capacity to say something meaningful and impactful to the students. Betsy Devos can neither relate to your graduates nor say anything that’ll mean a single thing to them.
The second thing that should be done is making sure that your students approve of the speaker. Why? Because this is their graduation, and they’re the ones who will be listening and digesting the speech—a speech that’s meant for them, not you. Your students greatly disapproved of the speaker. Why wouldn’t they? Betsy Devos is the very definition of white privilege; she practically bought her position, and that goes against everything your school should stand for. Anything that Betsy Devos said fell on deaf ears, because your students are not ignorant and they know better than to listen to a woman who has never faced real strife in her entire life. Your graduates have put in excruciating work for four or more years, and you turned their graduation into a publicity stunt, into a mockery. It’s a huge slap in the face.
It’s understandable to want better for your school, Mr. Jackson. It’s understandable to want a place at the table, a place to voice your concerns and make a case for the betterment of your establishment. When you align yourself with corruption, however—corruption that sits on the back of black and brown people—there is no way to go but down. And when you disregard the voices of your students and take the side of their oppressors, of your oppressors, then you’ve truly lost.