Education Secretary Betsy DeVos: ‘I Should Have Decried More Forcefully the Ravages of Racism’

DeVos at B-CU AP Photo John Raoux
AP Photo/John Raoux

U.S. Education Department Secretary Betsy DeVos says she regrets that she did not more vehemently condemn racism in the country when dealing with issues concerning the nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

“When I talked about it being a pioneer in choice it was because I acknowledge that racism was rampant and there were no choices,” DeVos said in an interview with the Associated Press (AP) in her office. “These HBCUs provided choices for black students that they didn’t have.”

The secretary’s comments come several months after DeVos referred to HBCUs as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice,” a statement that led to a deluge of criticism from leftwing groups.

After her statement, these groups circulated an online petition demanding that HBCU Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) rescind its invitation to DeVos to give its commencement address.

“Betsy DeVos doesn’t understand that HBCUs were created in response to the exclusion of African Americans from mainstream institutions,” said the petition. “Secretary DeVos has no understanding of the importance, contributions, and significance of HBCUs.”

The NAACP, teachers unions, and other leftist groups agitated the protests against DeVos and circulated the petition demanding the B-CU administration rescind the invitation to address the graduates. The NAACP called for the resignation of B-CU’s president and board chairman if they did not disinvite DeVos. The same groups objected to DeVos’s withdrawal of protections the Obama administration put in place for students who have mismanaged or are defaulting on their student loans.

During commencement at B-CU, many of the 300 graduates also turned their backs on DeVos as she addressed them.

“My intention was to say they were pioneering on behalf of students that didn’t have another choice. This was their only choice,” DeVos said during the AP interview. “At the same time I should have decried much more forcefully the ravages of racism in this country.”

DeVos’s focus on school choice – specifically to help low-income students who are stuck in failing schools – has been condemned by teachers’ unions, fearful of privatization of public education, and their media and political supporters.

“That’s where my heart has been for three decades is to really empower and allow all families the same kind of opportunities I’ve had for my kids,” DeVos told AP.

AP adds that DeVos “acknowledged that she could have done more to reach out to African-American communities around the country to make her position more clear.”

“I’ve had these conversations with some of the African-American organizations that represent higher education, but probably not as explicitly as I am right now,” DeVos said.

“At the time she made the comments about school choice, I am certain she was trying to promote her school choice agenda,” Marybeth Gasman, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania, reportedly said to AP in response to DeVos’s regrets about her statements. “I am glad she realizes the comments were offensive. That’s important.”


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