Standing Up for Student Rights

The student protest at Betsy DeVos’s IOP speech was important in continuing the conversation about education policy

The Institute of Politics—already under fire for the controversial appointment and removal of Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow—has again appeared in national headlines after hosting Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos last Thursday night. During DeVos’s speech, groups of students peacefully protested by standing and raising their fists inside the forum, among other acts.

We believe that regardless of one’s personal opinions on DeVos’s policy changes—including, perhaps most controversially, the removal of Obama-era Title IX guidelines and a proposal to use school vouchers—students have a right to use this forum as an opportunity to protest and express their political beliefs.

The IOP is built on the idea of empowering college students to become active participants in American political life and to take a stand for their values. The protesters that silently stood during DeVos’s speech quite clearly regarded her actions as incredibly destructive to themselves and their fellow students across the country. Indeed, they were practicing one of the IOP’s—and democracy’s—central tenets by peacefully advocating for what they believe to be right.

We thus are disappointed that the central narrative to emerge from these protests is the decision of many of the protesters to call DeVos a white supremacist. Multiple news outlets have fixated on this, condemning the overall protest as “disgusting” and “mindless”. These condemnations brush aside the broader conversation that should have taken place in light of the students’ protest.

We believe that fixating on specific signs or phrases used by individual protesters is a strawman tactic. It enables pundits to depict an entire protest as “unwarranted” rather than to explore the bigger picture. We must acknowledge this protest’s original purpose, and we encourage students to debate the actual policy measures which DeVos has implemented and which were protested in the forum.

Conversations about Title IX, charter schools, and racial equity in education are important, nuanced, and controversial. They are critical to the wellbeing of American students, determining their safety on college campuses, the quality of their education, and their access to resources. The Institute of Politics is the perfect forum for these debates and for students’ advocacy efforts, and we believe that holding DeVos—or any other political leader—accountable for her decisions is not only warranted, but also essential in a democratic society.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.


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