DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Students, staff and others gathered for a march Tuesday to protest Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos being invited to give a commencement speech at Bethune-Cookman University.
The group marched from the New Mt. Zion Church to the campus’ White Hall, where they handed over more than 50,000 signed petitions to the administration, urging it to have DeVos removed as the speaker.
The group claims it has more than 50k signatures from people asking the school to take back its invitation to DeVos— Mike Springer WFTV (@mspringerwftv) May 9, 2017
The petition reads, in part, “Betsy DeVos doesn't understand that HBCUs were created in response to the exclusion of African Americans from mainstream institutions. Secretary DeVos has no understanding of the importance, contributions, and significance of HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). Having DeVos speak at the commencement ceremony is an insult to the BCU graduating class, students, alumni, family, friends, and Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune's legacy.”
The NAACP Florida State Conference president on Monday called for the resignation of two Bethune-Cookman University officials a week after the school invited DeVos to serve as its keynote commencement speaker.
Bethune-Cookman University said it won't stifle students' free speech Wednesday when DeVos speaks at graduation.
The students will start there march at the New Mt Zion Church and walk a 1/4 mile to the school pic.twitter.com/3Jo6n34iSu— Mike Springer WFTV (@mspringerwftv) May 9, 2017
Attorneys for the NAACP said students who spoke out against the choice to have her speak were being threatened and intimidated.
The university said students who protest will not be punished, but the NAACP said it still stands by its demand for the president to resign over the allegations that students were threatened.
Here's the University's statement on the alleged threats pic.twitter.com/mCh9yxynZh— Mike Springer WFTV (@mspringerwftv) May 9, 2017
The school said it will uphold the existing policies and procedures to protect the integrity of the graduation ceremony and students who protest outside the Ocean Center will not be punished.
The backlash of the choice stems from controversial comments DeVos made calling historically black colleges and universities "real pioneers" of school choice.
DeVos later backtracked, saying that the schools weren't established to give black students more choices, but because black students were forbidden from attending white schools because of racial segregation.
The school says it has not and will not "chill" free speech— Mike Springer WFTV (@mspringerwftv) May 9, 2017
We are on our way to Bethune Cookman where students plan to drop off a petition wanting the ED Sec Betsy DeVos out as graduation speaker— Mike Springer WFTV (@mspringerwftv) May 9, 2017
Watch: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos talks school choice, funding with Martie Salt
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