Protesters react to DeVos speaking at GRRC


Protesters hold up signs protesting Betsy DeVos at GRRC. Photo by Isabella Ebbert.

There was a peaceful protest against Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos held Wednesday, Sept. 20,  on Monroe Ave. in downtown Grand Rapids. The protest took place outside of the MSU Grand Rapids Research Center, where DeVos was speaking for the grand opening. About 50 people, both students and adults, gathered on the sidewalks to publicly exhibit their opinions, whether of concern or support.

Central Michigan students Jackie Smith and John Mullen woke up at 5:30 a.m. to drive all the way to Grand Rapids to demonstrate their beliefs.

“I’m here to defend public education as a public and human right,” said Smith, a senior.  “That shouldn’t and really can’t be taken away from the American people.”

Many of the students at the protest reiterated that public education and the teaching profession used to be one of the most respected careers in the nation, but that the respect and appreciation for the system is dwindling.

Mullen voiced his rationale for attending the protest as well:

“My mom is a teacher and [it’s frustrating] hearing [DeVos] talk about charter schools and how bad they are for public education. As someone who’s been in charge of that and made their money off of that industry their entire lives… I just feel like it’s a really big conflict of interest.” Mullen also joked about how ironic he thought it was that a group of students was “cutting class to tell the Secretary of Education that they don’t like her.”

While there were many protesters who disagreed with DeVos, counter-protesters also showed their support of her. Among them was Eric Baxter, a local business owner. Baxter shared his opinion on DeVos’ “school of choice” action.

“It not only gives students and parents a choice and options other than public schools,” he said, “but it also forces the public schools to become better in order to compete.”

However, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, accused DeVos of wanting to “destabilize and privatize the public schools that millions of Americans value and rely upon.”

The most recent action DeVos has taken is investigating sexual assault at colleges and universities. There was a policy was originally implemented on the grounds of “preponderance of evidence” in sexual assault cases, meaning the evidence of the case would be strongly considered and automatically defending the assaulted instead of the accused.

DeVos, however, recently decided to rescind certain parts of this policy, implementing a new model of investigation referred to as “clear and convincing evidence.” DeVos hopes this new system will be more fair to both the victim and the accused. Critics worry that this change in policy will discourage college students from reporting sexual assault incidents.

Protesters against DeVos’s position are hopeful for change in the upcoming months while the nation awaits further education-based action.