Open Letter to Betsy DeVos regarding Historically Black Colleges and Universities and school choice

by Kismet A. Loftin-Bell

Dear Ms. DeVos,

I had the opportunity to read the press release and the statements within it following your visit and meetings with the presidents and chancellors of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). This letter is in response.

I am an indirect product of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s). I am the daughter and granddaughter of graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. My parents both graduated from North Carolina Central University. My maternal grandmother attended North Carolina Central University for her undergraduate and graduate degrees. My paternal grandmother is a graduate of Bennett College. And I was born and raised and currently live in the state of North Carolina, which has the second largest number of HBCU’s in the nation.

The existence of Historically Black Colleges and Universities is a reflection of the lack of access and opportunity in education for blacks. The existence of Historically Black Colleges and Universities is not analogous to the school choice movement. The creation and existence of HBCU’s is because there was no alternative. They were not developed to provide a better choice. They were developed to provide a choice.

Therefore, to compare the creation and existence of HBCU’s to school choice is to ignore the history of education in the United States. It ignores the history of keeping blacks (slaves) from being educated. It ignores the history of private only schooling. It ignores the history of public schools shutting down to keep from educating blacks. It ignores the history of the farce of “separate but equal” schools. It ignores the need for the National Guard to help integrate schools. It ignores the hatred spewed at children for wanting a better education in integrated schools. It ignores the rationale for busing. And it continues to ignore the fact that school choice has restored school segregation and has left students of color and low income students in subpar buildings, with subpar or without the necessary resources, and with teachers with limited training and/or functional support.

Let’s not categorize HBCU’s under school choice. While it has evolved into a choice among many schools, let us not ignore or forget why HBCU’s exist in the first place. And let us not insult the early graduates of such schools by suggesting that they had a choice in education.

I welcome the opportunity to further discuss the history of education in the United States and to discuss real solutions to addressing the needs of education.

Sincerely,

Kismet A. Loftin-Bell