By Kai Sinclair, Contributing Writer
Posted 4:00 PM EST, Thurs., Feb. 16, 2017
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos attended a meeting with Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick and a few student leaders on Thurs., February 9. It was her first official campus visit as the country’s highest education leader, but was not publicized until after DeVos’ departure.
“Howard University is pleased that Betsy DeVos, the new Secretary of Education, chose to visit our institution as her first official campus visit,” Frederick said in a statement. “We have a longstanding, successful relationship with the Department of Education, and I look forward to advancing this relationship under the Secretary’s leadership.”
The visit was made just two days after the vote took place to confirm her as an official member of President Donald Trump’s administration. Vice President Mike Pence had to cast the historic tie-breaking vote after the decision could not be reached in the Senate.
With the news of the vote fresh in their minds, some Howard students say they were surprised that DeVos would choose to make her first campus visit to an HBCU, although others felt they might understand his motives.
“Seeing as how HBCUs are becoming less and less important from a lot of viewpoints, I can see why she might find it necessary to do that, despite the fact that it’s sort of against what Black people want,” said Jasmine Berry, a junior economics major.
Being that DeVos does not have extensive backgrounds in education, some are concerned that her lack of knowledge might put schools and students in danger. According to her website, the new Secretary of Education served as chairman of The Windquest Group, a privately held investment and management group. While the website does say that she’s been active in politics for 35 years, it suggests that education has just recently become a focus of hers.
Junior biology major Joycelyn Edusei recalled watching DeVos give her stance on guns in schools and feeling stunned by her response.
“The Senate asked her, ‘Do you think it’s safe for students to have guns on their classrooms?’ She was talking about Wyoming and they should carry guns in case there’s grizzly bears or something,” Edusei said. “That’s kind of absurd.”
In addition to expressing concern about the future of America’s education system, Howard students felt that the meeting between President Frederick and the new Secretary of Education could warrant unwanted attention and change for the institution.
The 2015-2016 academic school year was a tumultuous one, marked by on-campus protests of financial aid. With that in mind, some students are concerned that DeVos’ visit could signal the start of a relationship with the new secretary of education that would lead to university-wide change and ultimately impact student life.
“I feel like they should just let us rock, leave us alone, no press –- we don’t need any of that,” said junior english major Erik Harrell. “She doesn’t need to change anything up here. I don’t like that.”