Betsy DeVos Booed, Heckled by Graduates of Bethune-Cookman University

Students at historically black university turn backs on, mock, the Education Secretary

May 11, 2017 10:48 am
Betsy DeVos delivering a commencement speech at Bethune-Cookman University.
Betsy DeVos delivering a commencement speech at Bethune-Cookman University. (CNN/YouTube)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos received a chilly reception from many graduating students at the historically black university of Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

After only a few seconds into her speech, DeVos faced an eruption of booing and shouts from the graduates, and a number of the students stood up and turned their backs to her, the Washington Post is reporting.

“If this behavior continues, your degrees will be mailed to you. Choose which way you want to go,” Edison Jackson, the university’s president, warned the crowd. But his threat was met with even more outcries.

Students were particularly bothered by DeVos’ reference to Mary McLeod Bethune, the university’s founder, who was the daughter of slaves and a civil rights activist. After mentioning in her speech that she was planning on visiting Bethune’s home and gravesite, students shouted “No!”

Donjele Simpson, one graduate, told the Post that she was frustrated DeVos had “the nerve” to mention Bethune’s legacy. “What does she know about that?” DeVos, who has been criticized in the past for making naive remarks about historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the United States, released a statement Wednesday night addressing the controversy.

“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’ statement said. “I have respect for all those who attended [the commencement], including those who demonstrated their disagreement with me.”

Watch the moment when the students began to turn their backs below.


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