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Betsy DeVos Knows Nothing About HBCUs

Photo Credit: Wayne A.I. Frederick / Twitter

According to new Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are a shining example of “school choice”. After a meeting between dozens of HBCU leaders and members of the Trump Administration, Betsy DeVos released a “statement” touting the fine example of school choice set by HBCUs.

While that may be true for many who currently choose to attend an HBCU versus a Predominantly White Institution (PWI), DeVos’ statements concerning the history and legacy of HBCUs in America is troubling.  In a statement allegedly released yesterday, DeVos referred to HBCUs as “pioneers of School Choice.”

Her statement clearly lacked the understanding and awareness of the history of HBCUs in this country, as well as the struggle for equitable education for Black students. Yes, these are institutions of extreme pride and value; however, to suggest that their creation is emblematic of true “choice” is ignorant and condescending.

This gaffe is the latest in a flurry of activity around HBCUs, with an HBCU Executive Order in the making.  During the Black History Month event organized by Omarosa Manigault at the beginning of the month, Trump indicated he wanted to know more about HBCUs after the issue was raised about what was he going to do for the schools. Some GOP lawmakers have been reaching out to HBCUs, touting their necessity and value. Even Charles Koch has jumped in on the action, pledging $26 million to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. It should be noted that Betsy DeVos’ recent visit to Howard University was met with backlash from students who insisted the school not allow members of the Trump Administration on campus among other demands.

Students have continued to organize on campus and criticize Howard’s President for meeting with Mike Pence and Trump. Others have suggested that funding provided to HBCUs from the Trump Administration is equal to “hush money” and HBCU administrators should reject any overtures from Trump and company.

DeVos needs to fire her staff ASAP and then resign. Whoever is advising her in writing these statements and setting up these photo ops is failing at life. A quick Google search would help one understand the history of HBCUs. Clearly, she learned little on her trip to Howard University. If anything, HBCUs are not an example of “school choice,” but the “separate but equal” principle laid out in Plessy v. Ferguson. Although there were a few schools that served the needs of black students prior to the Civil War, HBCUs were largely created by various means post-Civil War to educate freed slaves and their children. For example, the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1890 required states that used federal funds for education to either admit Black students or create a land grant institution to serve them.

US Dept of Education misspelled W.E.B. Du Bois’ name earlier this month.

DeVos’ attitude (and in turn that of the Trump Administration) is detrimental to the success and vibrancy of our students regardless of whether they attend an HBCU or a PWI. There are also schools with majority Black populations that are not HBCUs if they were not designated as such prior to 1964. The issues facing Black students at HBCUs need to be considered in the context of issues affecting Black students nationwide and she does not seem to have the comprehension for the necessary tasks at hand. Similar to the manner in which school choice proponents gloss over the inequitable distribution of “good” schools within the choice apparatus, DeVos’ statements lack an understanding of the plight and condition of many HBCUs today. She continues to show herself not simply unqualified, but dangerous for opportunity and advancement for students nationwide.  

Written by Anoa Changa

Mom 1st, Lawyer 2nd. Anoa Changa is Director of Political Advocacy and a Managing Editor of Progressive Army, as well as a member of its Editorial Board. She hosts The Way with Anoa, Wednesdays at 9pm ET on YouTube . Follow her on Twitter @TheWayWithAnoa. "Never tell me the odds." - Han Solo

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