By Kaylin Young, Contributing Writer
Posted 3:45 PM EST, Thurs., Feb. 16, 2017
As Howard University comes closer to its sesquicentennial year, students can expect a myriad of events, visitors and surprises in light of the milestone celebration. However, the first surprise of the season was a visit from newly-appointed United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. DeVos stopped by Howard University Thursday, Feb. 9, to speak with Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick and a few student representatives on her first official college visit since being confirmed.
— Betsy DeVos (@BetsyDeVos) February 9, 2017
When the news broke on social media, the Howard University community was surprised and confused as they saw a picture of a smiling DeVos and Frederick together in the same room. One person who was not surprised by the visit, but is determined to put the pressure on Frederick to stand up for his students is Howard University Student Association Executive President Allyson Carpenter.
“Howard University is the Mecca. If there’s any school to come to first, it should be The Mecca. However, if her visit did not include our university president putting the pressure on her to do right by HBCUs and for Black education, then this trip was nothing more than a photo op,” said Carpenter.
Sophomore political science major Taylor Rainey was also among the confused students. Rainey, who has worked in politics since high school, interning for state representatives in California and Washington, D.C. as well as Model NATO, has a few questions towards the surprise visit.
“First of all, I want to know why she was here. Seeing her with our president made me think ‘who is our president?’ I don’t know President Frederick personally, but this is a bad image as he represents the student body,” she said.
When reflecting on the nature of her university, Rainey had even more concern.
“I think considering the atmosphere of our campus and the state of DeVos’ confirmation, President Frederick should have made the visit open to the campus.”
On Twitter, Howard students had similar worries about the visit. Basil Niccolls, a senior, track and field athlete responded to photos of the visit by tweeting, “What y’all should’ve done was have a town-hall discussion open to everybody so DeVos would be forced to address our concerns as HBCU students.”
Soon after the visit, DeVos released a statement commenting on the meeting, saying “It was a pleasure to meet with Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick and several student leaders this morning. We had a robust discussion around the many challenges facing higher education and the important role of HBCUs.”
President Frederick was unavailable to give a comment about the visit, however, he also released an official statement on Howard’s website. In the statement, he praised DeVos for visiting Howard and abstractly commented on the content of the meeting, saying, “Our conversation today was a very meaningful one and I welcome the opportunity to continue discussing the many ways we can work together to forward the work of higher education, specifically that of Howard University, Howard University Middle School of Mathematics & Science, and HBCUs in general.”
Carpenter, who believes Frederick’s track record has not proven him to take a hard stance on issues affecting minorities, said, “When we’re talking about social justice issues, he needs to speak up. It can’t just be when it’s time to take a picture with the President Frederick has to be vigilant and remember who he serves.”