Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is walking back her comments on HBCU’s from several months ago.
In an interview with the Associated Press, DeVos expressed regret at her previous comments. “When I talked about it being a pioneer in choice it was because I acknowledge that racism was rampant and there were no choices. These HBCUs provided choices for Black students that they didn’t have. My intention was to say they were pioneering on behalf of students that didn’t have another choice. This was their only choice. At the same time I should have decried much more forcefully the ravages of racism in this country.”
She kicked off a firestorm of controversy in February when she said Historically Black Colleges and Universities were ‘real pioneers when it comes to school choice.’ DeVos is a Republican billionaire donor from Michigan who has been a staunch proponent of school choice.
DeVos now says she should have done more to reach out to the Black community around the country to explain her agenda. “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.”
But DeVos and the Trump administration has faced harsh criticism from civil rights advocates for the undoing of civil rights protections. The administration has recently rescinded Obama federal guidelines that instructed schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice, and the Justice Department is targeting affirmative action programs in colleges.
While DeVos claims to have seen the error in her ways, not everyone is convinced of DeVos’ sudden revelation. University of Pennsylvania education professor Marybeth Gasman isn’t convinced. “At the time she made the comments about school choice, I am certain she was trying to promote her school choice agenda. I am glad she realizes the comments were offensive. That’s important.”
DeVos’ appointment was historic. Vice President Mike Pence had to break the 50-50 Senate tie to confirm DeVos as education secretary in February. Students at Bethune-Cookman University in Florida booed DeVos and walked out on her commencement speech in May.
Despite recognizing her previous error with HBCU’s, DeVos refused to discuss if race should play a role in college admissions. “Well, they are looking at that is a factor today. I am not going to debate that, I am not going to discuss that.”