READ: Black University Faculty’s Stirring Open Letter to Bethune-Cookman’s Graduating Class

By Kenrya Rankin May 12, 2017

On Wednesday (May 10), 374 students concluded their tenure at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically Black school (HBCU) in Daytona Beach, Florida. A day that should have been filled with excitement about post-collegiate life was marred by a visit from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, whom critics say champions policies that threaten the education of Black students across the country.

While there is a long history of protest at HBCUs, this latest rebellion takes on heightened relevance in a time when many feel the Trump Administration has repeatedly used university officials as props to illustrate a connection to African Americans—even as President Donald Trump has questioned the constitutionality of funding these institutions.

The university posted a news release that downplays the student-led protest of DeVos at the graduation, saying that just 20 students “expressed their freedom of protest during her speech,” despite the fact that video shows several students turning their backs on her and booing.

In celebration of what actually appeared to be a much larger protest, 215 Black faculty members from unversities across the country united to sign an open letter to the graduating class. Organized by North Carolina Central University’s Dr. Yaba Blay and written by Loyola University Maryland’s Dr. Camika Royal and The Ohio State University’s Dr. Treva B. Lindsey, it gives the students the sendoff they deserve.

The full letter appears on Cassius, but you can read an excerpt below.

The world watched you protest the speaker you never should have had. We cheered as we saw so many of you refuse to acquiesce in the face of threats and calls for complicity. Your actions fit within a long tradition of Black people fighting back against those who attack our institutions and our very lives with their anti-Black policies and anglo-normative practices. Betsy DeVos’ commitment to dismantling public education and her egregious framing of historically Black colleges and universities as “pioneers” in school choice are just two examples of why she should never have been invited to speak at an event celebrating Black excellence. …

You represent the best of Mother Mary McLeod Bethune who took the little she had and built an institution that remains committed to bringing out the best in us. You are the best of us.

Read the entire open letter here.