Trump Promises ‘Unwavering Support’ for Historically Black Colleges and Universities

U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes the leaders of dozens of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. February 27, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

President Donald Trump is promising “unwavering support” for the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The president said in a statement Sunday:

The statement that accompanied my signing of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017, sets forth my intention to spend the funds it appropriates, including the funds for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), consistently with my responsibilities under the Constitution. It does not affect my unwavering support for HBCUs and their critical educational missions.

In February of this year, I signed an Executive Order pledging to strengthen the capacity of HBCUs to provide the highest-quality education; to ensure equitable opportunities for HBCUs to participate in Federal programs; and to increase the number of college-educated Americans who feel empowered and able to advance the common good at home and abroad.

My commitment to the above-stated goals remains unchanged.

In an earlier statement on Friday, Trump said that provisions that distribute funds on the basis of race, with an example being the HCBU program, would be treated “in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the laws under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.”

According to Politico, Trump’s earlier statement “raised questions about whether Trump would implement” the 25-year-old HBCU program because it questioned whether the Constitution allows a federal financing program based on race.

Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, and Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Trump’s statement was “misinformed factually,” and called the president’s statement “stunningly careless and divisive.”

In his statement released on Sunday, Trump also noted that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would deliver the commencement address at Bethune-Cookman University on Wednesday.

“Secretary DeVos chose an HBCU as the venue for her first commencement address to demonstrate my Administration’s dedication to these great institutions of higher learning,” the president said. “I look forward to selecting an Executive Director and Board for my HBCU initiative and continuing this important work with HBCUs throughout the nation.”

Last week the Florida chapter of the NAACP called upon DeVos to decline the invitation to give the commencement address at B-CU, “based on her horrible public education record impacting blacks and minorities in Florida and around the country.”

Adora Obi Nweze, president of NAACP Florida State Conference and member of the national board of directors, said:

The role of the U.S. Department of Education is to prohibit discrimination ensuring equal access to public education and the new Secretary of Education should pledge to drastically increase funding for all historically black colleges and universities. This has not happened to-date. If Secretary DeVos ultimately speaks at commencement and receives an honorary degree, this would be a slap in the face to minorities, women and all communities of color.

The NAACP also condemned Dr. Edison O. Jackson, president of B-CU, for extending the invitation to DeVos:

We believe the leadership of Bethune Cookman University should not bestow an honorary degree to Secretary DeVos based on her post-secondary education record. What makes the Bethune Cookman University approach unusual, is their plan to honor a person who has been on the job less than one hundred days and has no record of advancing educational equity for all students.

In an open letter published at the Orlando Sentinel, however, Jackson observed that “dialogue is a two-way street,” and noted that some college presidents “have rescinded invitations to potentially controversial speakers.”

He continued:

That is not my intention with DeVos. I am of the belief that it does not benefit our students to suppress voices that we disagree with, or to limit students to only those perspectives that are broadly sanctioned by a specific community.

One of the lasting hallmarks of higher education is its willingness to engage, explore and experience that which we deem as “other.” When we shelter our students and campus communities from views that are diametrically opposed to their own, we actually leave our students far less capable of combating those ideas.

“I have gratitude for the past, and hope for the future,” Jackson said. “So I ask the courtesy of your consideration to hear what Betsy DeVos, the 11th U.S. secretary of education, tells us.”

Essence reported comments Monday from two of B-CU’s graduating seniors – identical twins – who have been protesting DeVos’s anticipated address.

Taylor and Tyler Durrant say Jackson’s choice of DeVos is both “insulting” and “embarrassing.” They reportedly expressed doubt about DeVos’s support for those coming from low-income families, in light of the secretary’s recent withdrawal of protections put in place by the Obama administration for students who have mismanaged or are defaulting on their student loans.

“The U.S. Secretary of Education is someone who has never known what it is like to have financial aid. … she is someone who has been rich all her life,” Taylor Durrant told Essence. “She doesn’t know what going through the public education system means and what it can do to a student.”

“I think it’s just a slap in the face to understand now that we’re being sold … our legacy is being sold,” said Tyler Durrant.

DeVos herself released her own statement on Sunday, emphasizing that she is “a strong supporter of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the critical role they play in communities and in our higher education system.”

“I am happy to see the president reaffirmed this Administration’s support for HCBUs,” she continued. “I will continue to be an advocate for them and for programs that make higher education more accessible to all students.”

DeVos added she is looking forward “to visiting with the students, faculty and administration of Bethune-Cookman University this week and delivering the 2017 commencement address, my first as Secretary.”

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