[Marxism] Campus Backlash After Leaders of Black Colleges Meet With Trump
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Sat Mar 4 07:09:48 MST 2017
NY Times, Mar. 4 2017
Campus Backlash After Leaders of Black Colleges Meet With Trump
By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS and NOAH WEILAND
WASHINGTON — It was a scalding message, painted on a university campus
sidewalk this week: “Welcome to the Trump plantation. Overseer: Wayne A.
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
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
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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