[Marxism] Campus Backlash After Leaders of Black Colleges Meet With Trump

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Mar 4 07:09:48 MST 2017

NY Times, Mar. 4 2017
Campus Backlash After Leaders of Black Colleges Meet With Trump

WASHINGTON — It was a scalding message, painted on a university campus 
sidewalk this week: “Welcome to the Trump plantation. Overseer: Wayne A. 
I. Frederick.”

What made the message more jarring still was that Dr. Frederick is the 
black president of one of the country’s most respected historically 
black institutions, Howard University, founded here 150 years ago as a 
bulwark of social justice. Other graffiti on campus buildings said, 
“Wayne Frederick doesn’t care about black people,” and “Make Howard 
black again.”

And on Thursday, students disrupted a university convocation to protest 
what they saw as Howard University’s catering to the Trump 
administration. One student confronted Dr. Frederick, shouting: “Someone 
might have convinced you that money is more important than people. But 
we are asking you, in this moment, to choose us, to take a stand for us, 
and to do right by us.”

The student backlash came after Dr. Frederick and more than 60 other 
leaders of historically black colleges and universities gathered for a 
meeting on Monday with top officials of the Trump administration, 
including the new education secretary, Betsy DeVos. As the meeting was 
getting underway, participants said, it was interrupted to invite them 
to an impromptu visit with President Trump in the Oval Office.

A photograph of the black leaders smiling and chatting with Mr. Trump 
around his desk was widely circulated and instantly became a flash point 
for students who believe the administration has been insensitive to the 
needs of black Americans.

“Is it a photo op, is it an opportunity for Trump to put himself next to 
black people and smile?” Llewellyn Robinson, a Howard sophomore, said, 
after the graffiti had been wiped clean. “Is that the situation we’re 
dealing with? Or is it truly a seat at the table?”

Howard protesters said they had heard echoes of support — in the form of 
tweets, student organizations reaching out and the exchange of 
information on group messaging apps — from students at other prominent 
black institutions like Spelman, Morehouse, Hampton and North Carolina 
A&T. An aide to one college president said that concerns about how to 
deal with the protesters had been a topic of intense phone conversations 
among the leaders.

Many of the black leaders who met with Mr. Trump, Vice President Mike 
Pence and other members of the administration said that they had no 
apologies for what they called institution building, a chance to make a 
personal connection with Mr. Trump in the hope that his administration 
would invest in the future of their colleges and universities.

“I was not there for any foolishness,” said David Wilson, the president 
of Morgan State in Baltimore, who said he consulted with student 
leaders, faculty, alumni and regents before agreeing to the meeting. “I 
was not there for a photo op with the president. I was not there to make 
any statement about legitimizing him or not. I was there to make sure 
that the genre of institutions that has been so critical to building the 
middle class in this country and that will be critical to maintaining 
the middle class going forward receive the appropriate amount of federal 

But the students saw the meetings as political cover for Mr. Trump, and 
some awkward details of his administration’s encounter with the black 
academic leaders only reinforced their skepticism.

Many saw it as disrespectful when Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser to 
Mr. Trump, was photographed sitting with her feet tucked under her on a 
couch in the Oval Office, fiddling with her phone, as Mr. Trump and the 
black leaders stood in the background.

Ms. DeVos was criticized for saying, in a statement in honor of the 
meetings, that “H.B.C.U.s are real pioneers when it comes to school 
choice,” referring to historically black colleges and universities. Some 
were offended by the implication that black institutions were created as 
a free-market choice, rather than by necessity because of segregation.

At Thursday’s convocation at Howard, students raised fists and held 
signs saying, “Trump is Not Welcome @ Howard,” and “Don’t Take Trump 
Hu$h Money,” before being escorted from the auditorium by security, the 
students said. As they paraded out, they chanted, “We have nothing to 
lose but our chains.”

Students said that Dr. Frederick’s visit to the White House had been a 
topic of conversation in classes all week. Residents of one dorm held a 
town hall-style meeting on Wednesday night to discuss it.

The protest is a striking departure from the student demonstrations 
against racial injustice that have roiled campuses for two years because 
it was focused on White House politics.

The fact that it occurred at Howard, partly under the social media 
banner #HUResist, may have to do with the university’s location in the 
nation’s capital, as well as the fact that on Feb. 9, Ms. DeVos made her 
first official school visit as education secretary to Howard, where she 
met privately with Dr. Frederick in his office. Howard students also 
tweeted their disapproval of that visit. The next day, she went to 
Jefferson Academy, a public school in Washington, where she was met by 

“I think maybe he thinks if he does these photo ops, then Howard will 
get more money,” Blake Newby, a Howard senior, said of Dr. Frederick on 
Thursday. “But it’s President Trump!”

Dr. Frederick declined to comment on Thursday. But late Thursday, after 
the convocation was disrupted, he released a two-page letter to the 
“Howard University Community” defending his contact with the Trump 
administration and his meeting on campus with Ms. DeVos. “I can assure 
you these engagements will occur without compromising our principles,” 
the letter said.

Many historically black colleges and universities, including Howard, 
have suffered financial strain in recent years because of changes in 
federal support and declining interest among black college-bound 
students. About 300,000 students, not all black, attend historically 
black colleges and universities, but their share of the black college 
population dropped to 8 percent in 2014 from 18 percent in 1976, 
according to federal statistics.

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Howard’s rating below investment 
grade in June 2015, largely because of problems supporting its hospital, 
which is a safety net for poor patients. But Moody’s said the lower 
rating also reflected competition for price-sensitive students in a 
narrow niche.

Marybeth Gasman, a historian of education at the University of 
Pennsylvania, said she thought the meeting did more for Mr. Trump than 
for the college presidents. “I think this was an opportunity for Donald 
Trump to say, ‘Look, I had this event with African-American leaders,’ 
and, ‘Get off my back.’”

“I hate that people feel — that the students feel — a sense of 
betrayal,” said Walter Kimbrough, the president of Dillard University in 
New Orleans. “It was a great opportunity to help the new secretary. It 
was really like an H.B.C.U. 101,” he said.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and chief executive of the Thurgood 
Marshall College Fund, said his group — which represents 47 publicly 
supported black colleges and universities — had asked for a meeting with 
Mr. Trump, and was elated when it was granted. The group had asked for a 
meeting with President Barack Obama every year for eight years and had 
never heard back, he said.

“We don’t have a problem getting to the secretary,” Mr. Taylor said. 
“But Mr. Trump or any president has to first propose their budget to 
Congress, so you need to get to the president to impact his budget if 
you hope to get your financial support from Congress.”

He said the meetings had already borne fruit because Mr. Trump had 
signed an order moving a longstanding initiative supporting historically 
black colleges and universities from the education department into the 
White House, where some black leaders thought it would carry more weight.

Some Howard students were more supportive. Nia McGaugh, a sophomore, 
said she felt the urgency of federal funding, noting that Howard needed 
more student mental health services.

“President Trump should be aware of what’s going on inside our doors, 
and we shouldn’t be so hung up on upholding our image when we need 
help,” she said.

Mr. Taylor said he had actually expected a smaller delegation of 
presidents to be allowed into the Oval Office, but Mr. Trump had invited 
them all in.

“It was a sight to see,” he said. “It’s fascinating to me that they 
don’t see the value and to reduce it to a photo opportunity. I think 
it’s quite condescending to suggest that really smart people with the 
best Ph.D.s in the country flew all the way there for a photo op. Come 
on, guys. Don’t reduce us to that.”

Doris Burke contributed research.

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