- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2017

The president of a historically black university in Daytona Beach, Florida is defending his decision to invite Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to speak at the school’s spring commencement, arguing that to disinvite her at students’ demands would put them at a disadvantage for understanding opposing viewpoints.

“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.

“One of the lasting hallmarks of higher education is its willingness to engage, explore and experience that which we deem as ‘other,’” he continued. “When we shelter our students and campus communities from views that are diametrically opposed to their own, we actually leave our students far less capable of combating those ideas.”

Mr. Jackson argued that people cannot reach an understanding with others if they insist on existing in “ideological, social and racial silos.”

“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,” he wrote.

He said the university’s founder, Mary McLeod Bethune, relied on support from leaders “scattered all along the ideological and political spectrum” in order to get the institution off the ground.

“These leaders represented diverse political and social views, and Bethune invited them all to visit and support her institution. It is in that same vein that I have invited DeVos to speak,” he wrote. “I have gratitude for the past, and hope for the future. So I ask the courtesy of your consideration to hear what Betsy DeVos, the 11th U.S. secretary of education, tells us.

“Remember that dialogue is a two-way street,” he concluded.

Mr. Jackson’s op-ed comes after a petition was launched Saturday demanding the university rescind its invitation to Ms. DeVos, Campus Reform reported.

“Having DeVos speak at the commencement ceremony is an insult to the BCU graduating class, students, alumni, family, friends, and Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s legacy,” the petition reads. “We, the proud alumni of Bethune-Cookman University, do not want Betsy DeVos to have a seat at our table. Please rescind her invitation to speak at the graduation ceremony.”

The petition suggested that Ms. DeVos be invited for a “meaningful dialogue about stronger policies,” instead of giving a speech at commencement, which the petition described as a photo op for the Trump administration.

The petition garnered 5,700 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

Volusia County’s NAACP chapter protested against the commencement invite Wednesday, and students have indicated they will protest her speech as well, News 13 reported.

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