Harvard Students Protest Betsy DeVos With ‘White Supremacist’ Sign, Raised Fists

By Sameer Rao Sep 29, 2017

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos‘ views on school choice and other hot-button education topics made her the target of student protests during a speech at Harvard University yesterday (September 28).

The Associated Press (The AP) reports that several student activists reacted silently to her remarks advocating school choice—a policy that critics say attacks public school infrastructure and disproportionately hurts students of color. NBC News caught video of the action that shows students of color turning their backs to DeVos, raising their fists and holding signs that read "White Supremacist" and "Our students are not for sale."

The video also shows that DeVos did not stop her speech or address the protest, which The AP notes also took place outside the venue. Both sets of actions denounced several of DeVos’ recent decisions, including the authorization of $253 million in federal grants for charter schools, the elimination of Obama-era Title IX guidelines that authorize universities to investigate on-campus sexual assaults and the removal of Title IX protocol that allows transgender students to use facilities that correspond with their gender identities.

The AP adds that DeVos addressed questions about these policies during a question-and-answer session: 

Asked about protections for transgender students, DeVos said she is committed to making sure all students are safe. Earlier this year, she rescinded guidance that allowed transgender students to use bathrooms that matched their gender identity.

“With respect to any student that feels unsafe or discriminated against in their school, that is the last thing we want and the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education continues to hear and work with the schools that have any of those issues to deal with,” DeVos said. “And we are committed to doing that on behalf of the students.”

She said she wants new rules on campus sexual assault to be fair to both the victims and the accused. “One sexual assault is one too many,” DeVos said. “By the same token, one student that is denied due process is one too many. So we need to ensure that that policy and that framework is fair to all students.”

Another student said school choice is used by large corporation to make profits and asked DeVos how much she expects her net worth to increase as a result of her policies.

DeVos took the question in stride. “I have written lots of checks to support giving parents and kids options to choose a school of their choice,” DeVos said. “The balance on my income has gone very much the other way and will continue to do so.”

Reuters says that protesters inside the venue remained largely quiet until DeVos left the stage, at which point many chanted, "This is what White supremacy looks like!”

DeVos has encountered demonstrations at other university speaking engagements around the country. Students and new graduates of Bethune-Cookman University, a historically Black university (HBCU), booed and turned their backs during her commencement speech at the Daytona Beach, Florida, institution in May. She previously earned criticism for saying that HBCUs, which were created to educate Black students who were prohibited from attending most White-led institutions, were "real pioneers of school choice."