U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was met with a roomful of shuns and jeers at Bethune-Cookman University on Wednesday when she gave a commencement address.
About half of the 380 graduates stood up and turned their backs on her during her speech, according to the Washington Post.
For nearly the entirety of her address, DeVos was booed, jeered at, and told to “Go home!” by people in attendance, according to Business Insider. The revolt got so loud that two minutes into her speech, the president of BCU, Edison Jackson, interrupted to threaten halting graduation if the behavior persisted.
“Choose which way you want to go,” said Jackson.
When DeVos restarted her speech, the boos continued.
BCU in Daytona Beach, Florida, is a historically black university. In the weeks leading up to her appearance, there was vocal opposition from students, civil rights organizations and Florida education groups, who felt that DeVos — a philanthropist and strong proponent of school choice, private and charter schools — is not fit to speak on public schools, or historically black colleges.
Protestors on Tuesday delivered petitions to the school’s leaders, imploring HCU to cancel her speech — organizers said they collected more than 50,000 signatures.
“Do not use Bethune-Cookman as a photo op,” alumnus Dominik Whitehead, who launched the Change.org petition, told the Washington Post. “Come to the table with something that is going to actually do something in terms of policy, funding.”
The petition referenced an “unsettling” remark made in February by DeVos, who praised historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as “pioneers” of the school choice movement.
“They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality,” DeVos said in her statement. “Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”
HBCUs were founded to provide educational opportunities to black students who were shut out of other institutions during the Jim Crow Era that catered to whites.
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri called the statement “totally nuts” in a tweet. “DeVos pretending that establishment of historically black colleges was about choice not racism,” she wrote.
DeVos was expected to speak for an hour or more on Wednesday, but she wrapped up her remarks in roughly 20 minutes, according to CNN.
Watch students turn their back on her below, and watch her speech above.
— Nick Valencia (@CNNValencia) May 10, 2017