By Kaya Williams
BU News Service
Protesters gathered Thursday night to voice their opposition privatized education and Title IX reviews in response to Harvard Unviersity inviting Secretary of Education Betsy Devos to give a lecture at the university.
Outside the Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard University, a long but swiftly moving line of ticket holders entered the evening’s forum, “A Conversation on Empowering Parents with Betsy DeVos.”
Protesters filled the sidewalk on the same side of the street, separated by a line of metal barricades.
The demonstration against DeVos spanned an entire block on John F. Kennedy Street at one point, with many people holding up handmade posters and large banners criticizing the secretary of education and her policies.
After four phone calls and five emails to the Department of Education inquiring about interviews and comments on Friday, no representative was able to provide a statement on Thursday’s protests.
“Dump DeVos” was a common slogan. Others included “Ikea has better cabinets,” and “broke college students against DeVos.”
The protest was hosted by nine different organizations, seven of which are based in Massachusetts. It garnered nearly 2,000 “interested” responses on its Facebook event page by Thursday evening.
Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teacher’s Union, said the rally was intended “to protest the privatization of public education.”
She said protest organizers had several goals in mind, including educating the public on the issue and drawing attention to problems with privatized education.
Standing on a milk crate to address the crowd, Tang referred to policies such as last year’s Massachusetts Question 2, a ballot initiative which would have raised the cap on charter schools in the state.
Sixty-two percent of voters voted against the measure last November, but it called attention to the push for private education. Earlier Thursday, DeVos announced the Department of Education would award an additional $253 million in grants to expand charter schools, according to a press release.
Samuel Clarvoe, 25, of Brighton, said he wanted to be a “boot on the ground” to defend public education. He is currently studying to become a teacher.
“All kinds of people from everywhere” deserve an equal educational experience, he said.
Nora Paul-Schultz, a 31-year-old teacher from Jamaica Plain, said she came to the protest because she believes in public education. She said DeVos’ policies will hurt her students.
Others attended the rally to protest DeVos’ appointment to her current position.
Rachel Eckles, 22, of Mission Hill, said she thinks DeVos “lacks experience.”
Eckles said she was protesting to further the movement to “challenge this current administration,” because education is one of the “most important things government plays a role in.”
Shah Powell, 37, who lives in Kenmore, said she was attending the protest because she thought DeVos was “unqualified” and “not an educator.”
Three of the organizations that planned the protest are focused on sexual assault awareness, driven by an objection to DeVos’ early-September review of Obama-era Title IX protections for sexual assault victims. At the time, DeVos said the policies denied due process to accused offenders.
The Department of Education released new guidance on campus sexual misconduct in a question-and-answer document earlier this month. The policy change scales back stricter regulations the Obama administration had implemented in 2014 and gives schools more choice in addressing sexual assault allegations.
Several speakers at the protest talked about their personal experiences with sexual assault on college campuses.
Tang said she was a victim of sexual assault when she was a student at Harvard. She added that she “felt compelled” to share the information in light of what she described as a disconnect “from the realities of what’s happening in our schools and universities.”
At approximately 7:15 p.m., just as DeVos was scheduled to finish speaking inside, the protest concluded and demonstrators dispersed.
Listen: The crowd chants “Public funds for public schools” during protests on Thursday.