Many historically black colleges and universities were formed in response to systemic discrimination that kept African-American students out of white institutions, but Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos thinks they are a great example of “school choice.”
After meeting with leaders of these institutions at the White House on Monday, DeVos released a statement that some leading academics, politicians and rights groups are calling an inaccurate and offensive retelling of history. In her statement, DeVos praised HBCU’s for providing opportunity to black students during a time when “there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education.”
“They saw that the system wasn’t working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution,” says the statement from DeVos, published Tuesday. “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.”
In truth, many HBCU’s were formed as a matter of necessity when white supremacist structures systematically denied black students access to mainstream educational institutions, says University of Pennsylvania Professor Marybeth Gasman.
“I found the statement to be completely ahistorical,” said Gasman, who studies HBCUs. “It completely ignores slavery, it completely ignores Jim Crow, segregation, oppression, mass discrimination across the country, it ignores our entire history. It’s a whitewashing of HBCU history … African-Americans did not have a choice when black colleges were established ― that was the only thing they could do.”
On Twitter, many also questioned the validity of DeVos’ statement, including Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.):
Other scholars and civil rights leaders also sounded off.
Most HBCUs were founded after the Civil War, when black students were kept from white institutions, Gasman said.
“It would be really wonderful if the statement had talked about the origins of HBCUs and admitted to the vast amount of discrimination in the way African-Americans were treated,” Gasman said. “I think there’s absolutely no knowledge on the part of Betsy DeVos when it comes to education in general and specifically when it comes to African American higher education.”
President Donald Trump was due to sign an executive order this week around HBCUs. The order is expected to give the White House more control of an HBCU initiative that the Department of Education had previously controlled, CBS reports.
— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.