U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos faced protests Monday as she gave the keynote address at the University of Baltimore’s (UB) Fall Commencement. Protests took place both inside and outside the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric in Baltimore, where the graduation was held.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at the University of Baltimore’s fall commencement in Baltimore, Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
About 50 protestors, including faculty, staff, students and public education advocates, gathered outside The Lyric on Mount Royal Ave. and Cathedral St. around noon, about 1 hour before the ceremony began. “I am a professor here at University of Baltimore, and I was shocked to hear that Secretary DeVos would be speaking at our commencement. This is a public school that has benefitted from government sponsored programs to help education,” Marion Winick, Writing and Journalism Professor at the Klein Family School of Communication and Design, told the AFRO. “All the benefits that make this school possible, she’s not in support of those things. It’s not that we are opposed to free speech, but a Commencement speech is not a discussion, it’s a platform.”
According to Winick, UB President Kurt L. Schmoke personally invited DeVos. As president, Schmoke is entitled to invite whomever he wants to speak at graduations however Winick alleged none of the faculty were consulted about DeVos’ visit.
A graduating member of the University of Baltimore wears a message of protest against a commencement speech invitation to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on her mortar board during the university’s fall commencement in Baltimore, Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
“We are outraged that Betsy DeVos is not only Secretary of Education but that she was invited to our city,” Jabari Lyles, Executive Director at Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) Maryland, said. “Her policies affect youth that I am most passionate about which are low-income students of color and LGBT students.”
Inside the Lyric, once DeVos came to the stage, she was greeted with boos from several students. Her speech, which lasted approximately 20 minutes, touched on overcoming struggles. DeVos even referenced UB graduate Brandee Izquierda, who spoke about overcoming drug and alcohol addiction earlier in the ceremony, in her speech. Midway through the speech, approximately 50 students and 1 faculty member stood up and turned their backs on her.
This is not the first time Betsy DeVos has been met with protest. In May, graduating students of Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, FL turned their backs when she spoke at their commencement. In September, Harvard University students also staged a protest when she was invited to speak about school choice, an issue she has long been identified with.