Commentary: Why I’m proud of the B-CU grads that protested Betsy ‘Devoid’

Commentary: Why I’m proud of the B-CU grads that protested Betsy ‘Devoid’
May 18
12:00 2017

Julianne Malveaux

Guest Columnist

I be more proud of the students at Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) than if I had raised them myself. Responding to the university’s very late selection of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos  for the spring commencement speaker, graduating seniors chose to turn their backs on a woman who described HBCUs as “pioneers of school choice.” The students’ repudiation of DeVos’ very right to be present was well coordinated; the protest reflected their ability to be sophisticated, not reactive when confronted with a speaker that epitomizes the very refutation of their HBCU education. It is my hope and dream that these students can continue to operate in formation, as they oppose oppression.

I don’t know how DeVos (hereafter referred to as “DeVoid,” as she is devoid of good sense, history, literacy, and even courtesy) came to be B-CU’s commencement speaker. Most of the time, commencement speakers are secured months before graduation. This speaker was thrust on students and their families just 10 days before the ceremony.

What was B-CU President Edison Jackson thinking?  In his printed statement on May 1, he said, “The legacy of Dr. Bethune is that she was not constrained by political ideology, but worked across all parties to support B-CU. Moreover, students are directly impacted by funding dollars that are dispersed through the Department of Education. B-CU receives $4 million annually through Title III, which supports teaching, research and infrastructure. Additionally, Title IV impacts the ability of B-CU students to receive federal financial aid, overall influencing the ascension of Bethune-Cookman University students.”

Maybe President Jackson thought he was making friends by inviting DeVoid to speak at B-CU’s graduation.  Actually, he made a spectacle of the graduation by inviting a woman who had already disparaged HBCUs with her ignorance. And he did it in the same week when her boss, “45,” said (and then quickly reversed himself) that he was not sure that some federal provisions for HBCUs, such as the HBCU Capital Finance Program, are constitutional.

I reached out to President Edison Jackson and several members of his team to discuss this.

DeVoid insulted the B-CU community by recounting Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s life story as part of her commencement speech.  How dare she tell us about ourselves in a way to attempt to endear us to her? Betsy DeVoid, you are no Mary McLeod Bethune. You can go to her gravesite, but you can’t channel her energy.  Don’t get it twisted.

The low point of the B-CU commencement was the spectacle of President Edison Jackson chiding his students, because they had the integrity to protest the presence of Ms. DeVoid. He is their leader, their guru, their mentor.  He should not have threatened his students, but instead offered them, and Ms. DeVoid, a series of palliative statements designed to honor the protest spirit of Dr. Bethune, and the awkwardness of the moment. Had I been a scolded student, I would have felt slimed; had I been understood, I might have felt differently.

We have to resist the ways that “45” and his minions like Omarosa Manigault are pimping HBCUs. “Woke” Black people have to be aggressive in our financial support of HBCUs, and indifferent to the disingenuous overtures that would bring a devoid presence like Betsy DeVos to an HBCU campus.

Julianne Malveaux, former president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, is an author, economist and founder of Economic Education. Her latest book “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy” is available to order at at Follow Dr. Malveaux on Twitter @drjlastword.

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