Yesterday President Donald Trump met with the leaders of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the Oval Office. Heads of these education institutions were skeptical about the purpose of the meeting, and rightly so because on the very same day Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, sent a statement to reporters that essentially praised the Jim Crow Education System that segregated students based on the color of their skin.
— adam harris (@AdamHSays) February 28, 2017
One of the paragraphs in the statement reads:
HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.
DeVos is trying to use HBCUs as a proof of concept for her pet project of providing more choice to parents as to which school they send their children. But DeVos seems to have conveniently forgotten why HBCUs exist in the first place. HBCUs were created prior to 1964 with the principal purpose of providing higher education to African-American students, although they accepted students regardless of their race. This was because, under the Jim Crow laws, schools were segregated and universities would not accept students of color. HBCUs didn’t provide “more options”, they were the only option for African-Americans.
But HBCUs are still the victims of tacit racism today. Certain states will often overlook them for funding, preferring to award state grants to historically white schools. As a result, HBCUs have been consistently underfunded throughout their existence. The issue became so bad that some states, including Maryland and Mississippi, were sued for failing to fund white and black colleges at equal levels.
The irony of the Education Secretary praising certain colleges for providing choice, when those colleges were created because some people had no choice is almost unbelievable if it weren’t for the fact that it came from someone in the Trump administration. Through Devos’s blunder he United States Government has effectively praised legal segregation.
This isn’t the first time DeVos has appeared ignorant of the racial disparities that are present in the American education system. In a recent interview with Axios, DeVos failed to mention that civil rights were still a pressing issue in public schools. Unsurprising given the fact she has never had a proper job, let alone one in a school.
At a time when racial divisions in the U.S. are the worst they have been in a generation, DeVos praising Jim Crow is a step too far. Only in an administration as unprofessional as Trump’s would this ever be possible. The complete lack of tact and sensitivity, let alone basic knowledge, on the part of DeVos leads one to wonder whether this education secretary needs to back to primary school.