Inviting Betsy DeVos is highly disrespectful towards students who have benefited from public education, as well as the students who are trauma survivors.
By Montez Jennings
I graduated from University of Baltimore (UB) in 2016 and as a former student I was rather surprised to hear that current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos was invited to speak at Fall 2017 commencement.
Current UB President, Kurt Schmoke, decided out of all of the people in Baltimore city, Maryland and the DMV area, that DeVos would be the best person for the job. The same DeVos who doesn’t believe in public education and wants to rewrite the rules of Title IX in favor of accused rapists. After moments of disbelief, it’s safe to say my alma mater beyond disappointed me.
I remember my time at the commuter school — many who are familiar with the university knows it was initially for the working person offering an array of classes at night — however, the culture has shifted between its founding in 1925 and now. The school welcomed a few more areas of study and a lot more young Black and Brown kids, even going from a two-year school to admitting freshman. I attended the university two years after being a student at a private Catholic single sex school. UB has its niche and its flair, being the modern, somewhat liberal university stationed in a thriving intersection of the city.
It is close enough to downtown Baltimore, yet next to North Avenue where the “unks” lean and go for rehab. There are the modern hipsters who go out for coffee and gentrified politics, and there are spots where sex work and drugs dominate the streets. Soon, those streets will be swallowed up by the “redevelopment” of the city. University of Baltimore follows the trend, mostly ignoring the concerns and experiences of microaggressions from Black students especially while simultaneously ignoring the issues of its location but exploiting it for enrollment.
My time at the university captured experiences in insensitive conversations about the intersection of race and sexual identity, conversations about Black hair, and a petition (swept under the rug by our current president) addressing the concerns for students of color.
President Schmoke has blatantly disregarded how his students feels, providing the excuse “UB stands for freedom of speech.” More like entertaining the uncomfortability of its minority students and students that have experienced trauma. Freedom of speech is often used to defend hate speech and rhetoric slandering marginalized groups. The difference is the intent and the effect on the groups of people. He goes even further mentioning that having DeVos would benefit the university in the long-run and UB can debate controversial issues. As a graduate it is beyond embarrassing and frustrating to know the president of the university you attended does not care about Black and Brown students.
Many are justifiably angered, and there are people who don’t even want to attend their own graduation. A discussion was held with Schmoke where he was asked could there be a vote for a new decision. He said no. A funder openly expressed as long as he was president and as long as she spoke at commencement, there would not be another cent given to the school. It is safe to say Schmoke has disregarded the feelings of many in the UB community including graduates such as myself.
My alma mater has successfully failed me and disappointed me in multiple ways. The “modern, thriving, diverse” university has selected a person who masks her disbelief in the public system with “school choice,” comparing Lyft and Uber to kids and teachers in school. With so many outspoken, community-oriented students, this is a complete contradiction of the gained values of the university. It has transformed into the fake liberal school that appears to intolerance sometimes, when necessary.
Inviting DeVos is highly disrespectful towards students who have benefited from public education as well as the students who are trauma survivors. Whether or not people agree with her does not give her the right to step foot on University of Baltimore’s campus.
President Schmoke has decided welcoming a racist, classist, sexist politician is best for the student population which has become predominantly non-white. But giving her the green light to talk to students during their graduation — their moment of success — sends a blatant message to the UB community. President Schmoke stands for DeVos and her ideals and as a result I have been less than thrilled to call myself a University of Baltimore graduate.