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Bethune-Cookman Shows Students Will Reject Speaker...

Bethune-Cookman Shows Students Will Reject Speakers Even When Schools Won’t

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke at Bethune-Cookman University’s graduation.

Predictably and deservedly, it did not go well.

The historically Black university invited the controversial figure to speak at its commencement ceremony, and the school’s students did all they could to turn her away. The New York Times reports that the administration received 50,000 signatures in opposition to DeVos, so when she showed up anyway, it’s unsurprising that the audience met her with a protest of boos and turned backs.

I don’t want to talk about DeVos more than I have to, so I’ll make this quick: she is unqualified to speak at any college’s graduation, and especially unfit to address HBCUs. Her crusade against public schools in Michigan is an ongoing nightmare, her comments on segregated schools as “pioneers of school choice” were breathtakingly out of touch,  and her career path of inheriting a fortune and buying political appointments can’t possibly offer much useful insight for recent grads paying off college loans.

But DeVos herself isn’t nearly as interesting or important as the protest she inspired. As is increasingly the case, Bethune-Cookman’s administration invited a speaker with nothing but contempt for their students, and then insisted those students respectfully engage with her.

The students declined.

Colleges, it seems, will continue to give platforms to contemptible people who do contemptible things. Those contemptible people will continue to paint themselves as a silenced minority, even when they are the highest ranked education official in the country. And students will continue to show insight and conviction, recognizing bullshit when they hear it and making certain it is not welcome where they live. As frustrated as I am that universities keep giving equal time to politicians whose platforms amounts to “kill the poor,” I’m heartened that the student body will call a spade a spade. Because, while there’s value in speaking to people you disagree with, there’s none in speaking to people who see you as less than human.

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In a perfect world, I’d be a professor who teaches poetry using episodes of mediocre sci-fi procedurals, but for now, I’m just a tutor who watches a lot of TV. I got my BA from Kalamazoo College in English with a focus on creative writing, and someday soon I’d like to go back to academia.

Most of my formal teaching training was as a creative writing TA, but I’ve used those skills professionally more to tutor math and write data entry training materials. And though I’d like to focus my work on what I’m really passionate about (which is Netflix binges and outdated video games, mostly), it’s the craft of teaching and writing that keeps me coming back. That’s why I’m excited to be a part of High Faluter: I’m finding that academia doesn’t just stay in academia. And if I can bring crappy midbrow entertainment into academia too, well, all the better. You can find me on Twitter: @StewartFinnegan

(Photo of Betsy DeVos. Courtesty of Gage Skidmore.)


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