Protesters Greet Betsy DeVos for University of Baltimore Commencement

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Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons.

Students, parents and locals this afternoon protested Betsy DeVos’ presence at the fall commencement for University of Baltimore graduates.

Donald Trump’s secretary of education sent new grads off into the working world with a speech, as decided by university president and former mayor Kurt Schmoke in September. A non-teacher who champions charter schools and has stripped away or altered federal guidelines to punish predatory for-profit schools, protect disabled students and investigate campus sex-assault claims, DeVos was a generally unpopular pick for a graduation speaker among students and locals.

In the realm of sexual assault, DeVos has sought to give more credence to those accused of such crimes, rather than their accusers, which critics say feeds an institutionalized rape culture on college campuses.

A “Toss DeVos” protest occurred around noon today to remind her why the UB community is upset. GLSEN Maryland, which addresses GBLTQ issues in education, and FORCE, which seeks to fight rape culture, instructed participants to meet on the sidewalk across from The Lyric, the ceremony’s host venue.

“Our intentions are clear,” a poster read. “Our messages: Betsy DeVos is a danger to our nation’s youth/Survivors of sexual violence are worthy of belief.”

WYPR’s Dominique Bonessi reported around 20 people showed up outside with signs. Organizers said they needed to demonstrate on the sidewalk across from The Lyric, and not on streets or inside the venue. Inside, some students turned their backs on DeVos while she spoke, according to the Baltimore Beat’s Brandon Soderberg.

Asked beforehand if the university made additional preparations, UB spokesman Chris Hart said “we have security measures in place, both in and outside the venue.”

Some have raised eyebrows at the fact that Schmoke’s first cousin Julian Schmoke Jr. — coincidentally also a former official at the for-profit college DeVry University — was reportedly tapped by DeVos appointed for a DOE position.

The university defended its choice to pick her back in September.

“Throughout our nearly 100-year history, UB has pursued a commitment to intellectual engagement and an array of opinions,” the school said in a statement. “This is a foundational goal at our institution and is today expressed in our invitation to the Secretary to speak to and get to know our community.”

A total of 361 students – 232 undergrads and 129 grad students – were expected to walk as of Monday morning, Hart said.

GLSEN Maryland, Force and other groups hosted a Google Hangout chat afterward at 2 p.m. Click here for more info.

This story has been updated.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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