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Betsy DeVos Tried to Say HBCUs Are ‘Pioneers of School Choice’ & People Were Not Happy About It

Yet again, a member of the Trump administration has found themselves in hot water. This time, it’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who is under fire for touting historically black colleges and universities as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice,” The Washington Post reports.

DeVos’s statement comes as the Trump administration is looking to mend fences with HBCUs. President Trump even signed an executive order yesterday about HBCUs, but BuzzFeed News reports that the order changes little from the Obama administration, and doesn’t increase funding to the schools. Of course, no one is buying this outreach as anything other than political, but DeVos’s latest misstep is likely to only make tensions worse.

HBCUs have existed since before the Civil War, and in the past were often the only option for black students who wanted an education. For decades, they have been plagued by underfunding and poor equipment. Even today, many HBCUs feel the repercussions of the legacy of Jim Crow. But if you ask DeVos about it, the founders of these schools “saw that the system wasn’t working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution.” She also called HBCUs “living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality.” It didn’t go over well.

Overall, DeVos’s remarks are only part of the tone-deaf push to gain favor with HBCUs. On Friday, a number of leaders from HBCUs were invited to the White House to speak to the DeVos and a handful of officials from federal agencies. According to Walter M. Kimbrough, the president of Dillard University and one of those invited to speak, the night was derailed somewhat when attendees were invited into the Oval Office for a photo opportunity with Trump and told to keep their remarks under two minutes. As Kimbrough wrote on Medium, “needless to say that threw the day off and there was very little listening to HBCU presidents.”

There’s definitely been a trend during Trump’s presidency of not listening. Apparently Betsy DeVos has the same problem. She ended up tweeting something sort of like an apology after the backlash, but it wasn’t a very strong one.

It would be great if the Trump administration really would do something to help HBCUs get the resources they need, but so far it seems like the president is more interested in paying lip service than actually making lasting change.

Sydney Post is a Los Angeles native who moved east to Boston for college and stayed, despite the snow (or possibly because of it). She holds a BA in English from Tufts University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. When not writing, reading, or generally spending time around books, she can be found working on her cooking skills, being excited about dogs, and generally doing her best to be an adult.
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