(FORT LAUDERDALE – May 11, 2017) – A statement was issued by the NAACP Florida State Conference regarding the recent fiasco featuring a Trump Administration official’s speech at the Bethune-Cookman University graduation. Quite memorable, besides the boos, was the graduating class turning their backs on U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. To say the least, news of it on social media went crazy afterwards.
“The NAACP Florida State Conference is calling on Bethune-Cookman University President Dr. Edison Jackson and Board Chairman Dr. Joe Petrock to resign effective immediately. Since our initial public outcry last week, multiple allegations have surfaced including faculty intimidation demanding their silence or risk termination and threats to students by potentially withholding earned degrees and fines for freedom of expression. If these allegations are proven, this contrasts the public statements of university administration who opposes suppressing voices by welcoming U.S. Education Secretary DeVos but lends indirect support to these actions against faculty and students.”
The statement went on to read: “We have been in contact with several attorneys around the state, and have received support from numerous including the T.J. Reddick Bar Association, who has agreed to represent faculty and students who peacefully protest and are subject to retaliation by the university. Our partners have reviewed the university student code of conduct, and it does not contain any prohibition on peaceful protests and freedom of expression. The NAACP Volusia County Daytona Beach Branch and several attorneys will be on the ground monitoring this situation.
We still believe Secretary DeVos should not speak at commencement and that she has no record supporting an honorary degree by Bethune-Cookman University. With the recent comments of President Trump suggesting federal funding for HBCU’s is unconstitutional; this validates our view of a horrible decision by the university inviting Secretary DeVos, who still has not pledged to drastically increase funding for all historically black colleges and universities.”
“The university leadership has drastically fumbled and should resign,” said Adora Obi Nweze, President of NAACP Florida State Conference and member of the National Board of Directors.
The President of Bethune-Cookman, nonetheless, defends the invitation as a lesson in the level of tolerance necessary in a truly free society where everyone is not going to have the same ideology.
“I am of the belief that it does not benefit our students to suppress voices that we disagree with, or to limit students to only those perspectives that are broadly sanctioned by a specific community,” Edison O. Jackson, president of Bethune-Cookman University since 2013, wrote Wednesday in an op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel.
“If our students are robbed of the opportunity to experience and interact with views that may be different from their own, then they will be tremendously less equipped for the demands of democratic citizenship. No one understood this better than our venerable founder, Mary McLeod Bethune. She did all she could during the nascent stages of this institution to equip her students with the necessary skills to navigate the precarious waters of fundamental disagreement. She modeled this by interacting with and uniquely engaging those who had to be convinced of her mission to provide education to her people.”