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Why Historically Black College Leaders are Calling Betsy DeVos’s Latest Statement ‘A Bit Crazy’

One HBCU expert called it “a whitewashing of U.S. history,” adding, “I’m floored.”

DeVos HBCU

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released a controversial statement today in conjunction with an executive order that will move a federal initiative focused on historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) from the Department of Education to the White House.

DeVos’ statement focused on HBCUs as “pioneers when it comes to school choice,” but in reality, the schools were the only choice for available to black students, particularly in the segregated south.

DeVos, a life-long school choice advocate, appeared to not know the history of these colleges and universities. The reaction from the HBCU community was a mix of outrage and bewilderment:

Marybeth Gasman, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Minority-Serving Institutions and an expert in historically black colleges and universities, told POLITICO the statement is “inaccurate and a whitewashing of U.S. history.” 

“I’m floored,” Gasman said. 

Robert Palmer, an education professor at Howard University, said the schools weren’t a matter of choice. They were mostly created in a segregated education system after the Civil War and were for decades the only choice for black students — especially in the South, he said.

DeVos’ statement “was a bit crazy,” Palmer said.

Austin Lane, the president of Texas Southern University, a historically black university in Houston, said he was “puzzled” by the analogy. Lane is one of dozens of HBCU presidents who visited the White House and met with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and DeVos on Monday.

“HBCUs were created for African-Americans because they had no choice and were unable to attend schools due to segregation laws,” Lane said.

DeVos was confirmed earlier this month in a 50-50 Senate tie vote that was broken by Vice President Mike Pence. More recently, reports of private White House conversations revealed DeVos fighting on behalf of LGBT students and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

DeVos appeared to correct course with a series of tweets: