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More than 200 Black professors penned the beautiful open letter below to the courageous 2017 graduates of Bethune-Cookman College. The students defied the presence and rhetoric of 45’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, as she attempted to complete her speech. The graduates turned their backs, literally, on DeVos as she offered her remarks to the chagrin of the college’s administration gathered on the stage. Their act, their courage, in the face of assumed power is the true definition of Unapologetic. In response to their conviction, Dr. Yaba Blay (‎Dan Blue Endowed Chair in Political Science at North Carolina Central University) organized the collective effort, and Drs. Camika Royal (Assistant Professor of Urban Education at Loyola University Maryland) and Treva B. Lindsey (Associate Professor of Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Ohio State University) penned this powerful sendoff below.

The CASSIUS team is honored they chose to publish with us exclusively. 

Dear Graduates of Bethune-Cookman:

First, congratulations! We are so proud of what you have accomplished. You have studied, prepared, planned, learned, and have earned what our parents, grandparents, and ancestors have had to fight, scrape, and die for in this nation. We are proud of you for that!

Watching you stand and turn your backs to her makes us elated. Overjoyed. Humbled. It was a day and a moment that should have been about celebrating you and what you achieved.

Beyond becoming graduates, we are floating this morning thinking about how you stood up to your university and protested the woefully under-qualified Secretary of Education who attempted to address you at your graduation yesterday. Watching you stand and turn your backs to her makes us elated. Overjoyed. Humbled. It was a day and a moment that should have been about celebrating you and what you achieved.

The world watched you protest the speaker you never should have had. We cheered as we saw so many of you refuse to acquiesce in the face of threats and calls for complicity. Your actions fit within a long tradition of Black people fighting back against those who attack our institutions and our very lives with their anti-Black policies and anglo-normative practices. Betsy DeVos’ commitment to dismantling public education and her egregious framing of historically Black colleges and universities as “pioneers” in school choice are just two examples of why she should never have been invited to speak at an event celebrating Black excellence.

We shared your outrage when it was announced that DeVos would serve as your commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree. As your administration hid behind the rhetoric of “learning from people with divergent perspectives,” current students objected. Alumni petitioned. We watched from a distance wondering how but knowing why this moment was taken from honoring you.

But then, you turned it around, figuratively and literally. We beamed with joy as we watched videos and read tweets of how you took your graduation back to honor yourselves. To honor your founder. To honor our ancestors. To honor us all.

You represent the best of Mother Mary McLeod Bethune who took the little she had and built an institution that remains committed to bringing out the best in us. You are the best of us. We, the undersigned, are Black professors and college administrators— some of us at HBCUs, some of us at PWIs, some of us HBCU alums— and we thank you. We salute you. And we love you.

Hail, Wildcats!

1. Yaba Blay, PhD, Dan Blue Endowed Chair in Political Science, North Carolina Central University
2. Camika Royal, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Urban Education, Loyola University Maryland (North Carolina Central University, Class of 1999)
3. Treva B. Lindsey, Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, The Ohio State University
4. Imani Perry, Hughes-Rogers Professor, Princeton University
5. Brittney Cooper, Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Africana Studies, Rutgers University
(Howard University, Class of 2002)
6. Susana Morris, Associate Professor of English, Auburn University
7. Robin M. Boylorn, Ph.D., Associate Professor (of Interpersonal and Intercultural Communication), University of Alabama (and The Crunk Feminist Collective)
8. Blair LM Kelley, Associate Professor of History, North Carolina State University
9. Dr. Kaila Adia Story, Associate Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies and Pan African Studies and Audre Lorde Endowed Chair in Race, Gender, Class and Sexuality Studies, University of Louisville
10. Melanye Price Associate Professor, Africana Studies and Political Science, Rutgers University New Brunswick
11. Mark Anthony Neal, Duke University
12. Marc Lamont Hill, Steven Charles Endowed Professor of Media, Cities, and Solutions, Temple University
13. Dr. Arturo Lindsay, Professor Emeritus, Spelman College
14. Jessica M. Johnson, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies and History, Johns Hopkins University
15. Tanisha C. Ford, Associate Professor, University of Delaware
16. Jim Harper, PhD, Chair, History, North Carolina Central University (North Carolina Central University, Class of 1994 /Class of 1997)
17. Charles D. Johnson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of History and, Director of the Public History Program, North Carolina Central University
18. Patrick Douthit aka 9th Wonder, Artist in Residence, North Carolina Central University / Duke University
19. Baiyina W. Muhammad, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, North Carolina Central University
20. Lydia Lindsey, Associate Professor of History, North Carolina Central University
21. Gloria Ladson-Billings, Kellner Family Chair in Urban Education, University of Wisconsin (Morgan State University, Class of 1968)
22. Akinyele Umoja, Professor and Chair, African-American Studies, Georgia State University
23. Fahamu Pecou, PhD, Artist Scholar, Emory University/ Adjunct Professor of Art, Spelman College
24. Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr., Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor of Music, University of Pennsylvania
25. Charles McKinney, Director, Africana Studies, Associate Professor of History, Rhodes College
26. Lester Spence, Associate Professor of Political Science and Africana Studies, Johns Hopkins University
27. Mat Johnson, Full Professor, University of Houston
28. Regina N. Bradley, Assistant Professor English and African Diaspora Studies, Kennesaw State University
29. Asia Leeds, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of International Studies, Spelman College
30. Akissi Britton, Ph.D., Lecturer, Sociology/Anthropology, Pace University
31. Takiyah Nur Amin, PhD, Assistant Professor, Dance Studies, UNC Charlotte
32. Ashanté Reese, Assistant Professor, Sociology and Anthropology, Spelman College
33. Dr. Khalilah L. Brown-Dean, Associate Professor of Political Science, Quinnipiac University
34. Charles H.F. Davis III, Ph.D., Director & Assistant Professor, USC Race and Equity Center
35. Fanon Che Wilkins, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Global Studies, Morehouse College
Kyoto, JAPAN (Morehouse University, Class of 1991)
36. Lumumba Akinwole-Bandele, Visiting Assistant Professor, Pratt Institute/Adjunct Lecturer, Lehman College/CUNY
37. Emir Lewis, Adjunct Professor, Film & TV, Tisch School of The Arts, New York University
38. Aimee Meredith Cox, Associate Professor of African American Studies, Fordham University
39. Tiffany D Pogue, Assistant Professor, Teacher Education, Albany State University
40. Dr. Kimberly J. Chandler, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, Affiliate Faculty, Women’s Studies Program, Xavier University of Louisiana
41. Racine R. Henry, Ph.D., LMFT, Visiting Assistant Clinical Professor, Drexel University
42. W. Michelle Harris, Assoc. Professor, Interactive Games & Media, Rochester Institute of Technology
43. Renee Baron, Associate Professor of Liberal Arts and American Studies, The Juilliard School
44. Shari Robinson-Lynk, LMSW, ACSW, Professor of Practice, SW@S, Simmons College
45. Kinitra Brooks, Associate Professor of English, University of Texas at San Antonio
46. Twayla Eason, MSW, LCSW, Assistant Professor of Social Work, Shaw University
47. George Derek Musgrove, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, Affiliate Professor of Africana Studies, University Maryland Baltimore County
48. Nikki R. Byrom, Instructor, University of West Georgia
49. Heidi R. Lewis, Associate Director & Assistant Professor Feminist & Gender Studies, Colorado College
50. Josie Pickens, Coordinator of Developmental Writing, Texas Southern University/HBCU Grad
51. Michael Leo Owens, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Political Science, Emory University
52. Dr. Antonia Randolph, Assistant Professor, Winston-Salem State University
53. Gwendolyn D. Pough, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Dean’s Professor of the Humanities, Syracuse University
54. Lisa B. Thompson, Ph.D., Associate Professor of African & African Diaspora Studies, University of Texas at Austin
55. Prof. Najja K. Baptist, Instructor, Political Science, Howard University
56. Amrita Chakrabarti Myers, Ph.D., Ruth N. Halls Associate Professor of History and Gender Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington
57. Melina Abdullah, Pan-African Studies, Cal State LA
58. Kristine Wright, Ph.D., Faculty – Sociology, Los Angeles Southwest College
59. Sam Vernon, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art, Vassar College
60. Aisha Tandiwe Bell, Adjunct Professor, Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC)
61. Christina M Greer, PhD, Associate Professor, Political Science, Fordham University
62. Brandi Blessett, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University-Camden
63. Tia Sherèe Gaynor, Assistant Professor, Marist College
64. Camille Z. Charles, Walter H. and Leonard C. Annenberg Professor in the Social Sciences
Director, Center for Africana Studies, University of Pennsylvania
65. Devon R. Johnson, Ph. D., Faculty Teaching Instructor, Department of Criminology, School of Social Justice, Rutgers University
66. Danielle M. Wallace, Assistant Professor, William Paterson University
67. Rachel Watkins, Associate Professor of Anthropology, American University
68. Dr. Shaunna Payne Gold, Associate Director, Student Development & Assessment Programs, University of Maryland
69. Tennille Allen, Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology, Lewis University
70. Marta Moreno Vega, Adjunct Professor NYU Art and Public Policy Department
71. Koritha Mitchell, Associate Professor of English, Ohio State University
72. Noel A. Cazenave, Professor of Sociology, University of Connecticut
73. Scott Poulson-Bryant, Assistant Professor of English, Fordham University
74. Anita Thompson, Adjunct Lecturer, African/African-American Studies Program, Eastern Kentucky University
75. Krystal Strong, Assistant Professor, Education, Culture, and Society, University of Pennsylvania
76. Suzanne Henderson, PhD, Independent Scholar of African American Studies
77. Jasmine Mitchell, Assistant Professor, State University of New York-Old Westbury
78. Candice M. Jenkins, Associate Professor of English and African American Studies, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
79. Jillian Carter Ford, Associate Professor of Educational Equity, Kennesaw State University
80. Natasha Lightfoot, Associate Professor, History, Columbia University
81. Crystal R. Sanders, Associate Professor of History and African American Studies, Pennsylvania State University
82. Dr. Rashawn Ray, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Maryland, College Park
83. Linda Chavers, Ph.D., Temple University
84. Dre Domingue, EdD, Visiting Lecturer, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
85. Siobhan Carter-David, Assistant Professor of History, Southern Connecticut State University
86. Derrais Carter, Assistant Professor, Portland State University
87. Kesi Amandla Augustin, PhD Candidate, New York University
88. Tracey Lewis-Giggetts, MBA, MFA, Professor of English and Creative Writing, Community College of Philadelphia
89. Bayeté Ross Smith, Associate Professor, NYU Tisch Dept. of Photography and Imaging (FAMU 1999)
90. Karla FC Holloway, James B. Duke Professor of English, Professor of Law, Duke University
91. K.T. Ewing, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of History, Tennessee State University
92. Apryl A. Alexander, Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Denver
93. Courtney R. Baker, Associate Professor, American Studies, Occidental College
94. Shanté Paradigm Smalls, PhD, Assistant Professor of Black Literature & Culture, St. John’s University
95. Anita W. Plummer, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Howard University
96. Dr. Rose Brewer, Professor, University of Minnesota
97. Tabitha Chester, PhD, Denison University, Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies & Black Studies
98. Ramon Goings, Ed.D., Assistant Professor of Education Leadership, Loyola University Maryland
99. Adanna Johnson-Evans, Associate Professor of Psychology; Director of African & African American Studies (Prairie View A&M University, Class of 1999)
100. Heather Z. Lyons, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Loyola University Maryland
101. Adell Cothorne, Professional Development Schools Coordinator, Loyola University Maryland (Morgan State University, Class of 1994)
102. Jay Morrow, Webmaster, University of the District of Columbia (North Carolina Central University, Class of 1995)
103. Sherie Randolph, Associate Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology
104. Ed Brockenbrough, Associate Professor, University of Rochester
105. Lynnette Mawhinney, Associate Professor, The College of New Jersey
106. Jay Sanford-DeShields, Associate Professor, Temple University
107. Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Visiting Scholar, University of Pennsylvania
108. Michael Dumas, Assistant Professor, University of California, Berkeley
109. Vanessa Dodo Seriki, Assistant Professor of Science and Urban Education, Loyola University Maryland
110. Lionel C. Howard, Ed.D., Assistant Professor of Educational Research, The George Washington University
111. Robert D. Bland, Assistant Professor, St. John’s University
112. Genyne Royal, Ph.D., Neighborhood Director, Student Success Collaborative, Michigan State University (Shaw University, Class of 1995)
113. Jennifer Williams, Assistant Professor, Morgan State University
114. Tanya Maloney, Assistant Professor, Montclair State University
115. Shannon King, Associate Professor of History, The College of Wooster
116. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, Associate Professor, Purdue University
117. Eric Darnell Pritchard, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2002)
118. Ifeoma Ike, Esq., Adjunct Professor, Political Science and African/Africana Studies, Lehman College
119. Dr. Adisa A. Alkebulan, Associate Professor, Department of Africana Studies, San Diego State University
120. Rema Reynolds, Assistant Professor, Eastern Michigan University
121. Keon McGuire, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University
122. Chinonye Chukwu, Assistant Professor, Wright State University
123. Sharita Jacobs, Independent Scholar of History (North Carolina Central University, classes of 1994 and 1996; Howard University, class of 2009)
124. Melissa Haithcox-Dennis (Dr. H-D), Adjunct Professor, Department of Health Education and Promotion, East Carolina University (North Carolina Central University, Class of 1997)
125. Khadijah Costley-White, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University
126. Shameka Powell, Assistant Professor, Tufts University
127. Sheena Harris, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of History, Tuskegee University
128. Alexandria Smith, Assistant Professor, Studio Art, Wellesley College
129. Leslie E. Wingard, Associate Professor of English, College of Wooster
130. Dr. Arica L. Coleman, Independent Scholar
131. andré carrington, Assistant Professor of English, Drexel University
132. Mendi Obadike, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Humanities and Media Studies, Pratt Institute
133. Keith Obadike, Associate Professor of Communication, William Paterson University
134. G. Clausen, Visiting Faculty, UNC School of the Arts
135. Tanya Mears, Associate Professor, Worcester State University
136. Jeffrey Q. McCune, Jr., PhD, Associate Professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies and Performance Studies / Director, Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, Washington University
137. La TaSha Levy, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, American Ethnic Studies Department, University of Washington
138. Debra T. Wiley, Associate Professor, Albany State University/COE Teacher Education
139. Wahneema Lubiano, Associate Professor, Department of African & African American Studies,
Duke University
140. Marcia Jones, Professor of Art, Art Institute Charlotte (Clark Atlanta University Class of 1990)
141. Yolonda Wilson, Howard University
142. Weldon McWilliams, PhD, Assistant Professor of History, SUNY Dutchess Community College
143. Dr Tempii Champion, LIU Brooklyn
144. Ashley Farmer Ph.D., Assistant Professor, History & African American Studies
145. Dr. Charles Peterson, Associate Professor of Africana Studies, Oberlin College
146. Dr. André E. Key, Assistant Professor of African American Studies, Claflin University
147. Elliott H. Powell, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota.
148. Don C. Sawyer III, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Sociology, Quinnipiac University
149. Sureshi M. Jayawardene, PhD Candidate, African American Studies Instructor, International Studies, Northwestern University
150. Abigail A. Sewell, Assistant Professor, Emory University
151. Piper Anderson, Adjunct Professor, Gallatin School, New York University
152. Brandy Thomas Wells, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of History, Department of History, Anthropology, & Philosophy
153. Yolanda Vivian Williams, M.Ed., M.A., Eastern Illinois University
154. Matthew J. Countryman, Associate Professor of History and American Culture, University of Michigan
155. Chryste L. Johnson, ACSW, Lecturer, Department of Social Work, Humboldt State University
156. Regina M. Moorer, Ph.D, Assistant Professor, Auburn University-Montgomery
157. Sharanna Brown, English Instructor, Alabama State University
158. Efeya Sampson, Adjunct Lecturer in the Dance Department, Sarah Lawrence College
159. Grace D. Gipson, Visiting Lecturer in African American Studies at Georgia State University
160. Prof. Kasandra Pantoja, Sociology, Passaic County Community College
161. Anedra Jones, Professor of Instruction, Department of Mathematics, University of Akron
162. Benjamin A. Saunders, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, Long Island University – Brooklyn
163. Brandi Hinnant-Crawford, PhD, Assistant Professor of Educational Research, Western Carolina University
164. Ijumaa Jordan, Adjunct Professor
165. Monique J. Roberts, JD, Adjunct Professor, Department of Public Administration, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY
166. Caitlin Cherry, Adjunct Professor (Fine Art), Columbia University
167. Keisha Green, Assistant Professor, University of Massachusetts Amherst
168. Tarshel Beards, Adjunct Professor, English Composition and News Writing, Malcolm X College
169. Terri Coleman, Instructor of English, Dillard University
170. Celina Dozier, Postdoctoral Research Associate, UMass, Amherst
171. Shelly Washington, Adjunct Professor, Coppin State University
172. Nicole Dugger, Graduate Teaching Assistant, English
173. Aaisha Haykal, MSLIS, Manager of Archival Services, College of Charleston Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture
174. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania
175. Alexis Caputo, Adjunct Lecturer & Professor of Dance, University of Miami
176. Risikat I. Okedeyi, Associate Professor of English, Prince George’s Community College
177. Chezare Warren, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, Michigan State University
178. Dr. Aminah Perkins, Adjunct Instructor, Western Carolina University
179. LeConte Dill, Assistant Professor, SUNY Downstate School of Public Health
180. Dr. Regina Spellers Sims, Resident Faculty, DePaul University School of New Learning
181. Tonia Poteat, Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
182. Cherie Dawson-Edwards, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Criminal Justice, University of Louisville
183. Bianca C. Williams, Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of Colorado Boulder
184. Dr. Nicole Rousseau, Associate Professor, Kent State University
185. Shirletta J. Kinchen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pan-African Studies, University of Louisville
186. Rosalyn Davis, Ph.D. HSPP, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Indiana University Kokomo
187. Giovanni N. Dortch, Adjunct Instructor, University of Memphis
188. Arlene Pitterson, Adjunct Professor, Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of NY
189. Jovonne Dempster, MSW, Lecturer, Social Work Department, Humboldt State University
190. Toya Williams, Adjunct Professor Central Piedmont Community College
191. Chantè D. DeLoach, Psy.D., Santa Monica College
192. Chris Roberts, Instructor, Temple University
193. Samira Abdur-Rahman, Assistant Professor of English, University of San Francisco
194. Brian Lozenski, PhD, Assistant Professor of Urban and Multicultural Education
Macalester College
195. T.J. Tallie, Assistant Professor of African History, Washington and Lee University
196. Jennifer Freeman Marshall, Assistant Professor of English and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, Purdue University (Spelman College, Class of 1990)
197. Christina Sharpe, Ph.D., Professor, English, Africana, & Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Tufts University
198. William J. Broussard, Ph. D., Assistant Professor of English, Southern University
199. Joyce M. Bell, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Minnesota
200. Anyabwile Love, Assistant Professor, Community College of Philadelphia
Shannon J. Miller, PhD Associate Professor, Minnesota State University, Mankato
201. Dr. Le’Trice Donaldson, Lecturer, History and Philosophy, City University of New York-York College
202. Calvin John Smiley, PhD, Sociology, Hunter College
203. Whitney Battle-Baptiste, Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of Massachusetts Amherst
204. Michael Roman, Visual Arts Program Director, Morehouse College
205. Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Associate Professor, Loyola University Maryland
206. Whitney Pirtle, Assistant Professor, Sociology, University of California Merced
207. Imani Kai Johnson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Critical Dance Studies, UC Riverside
208. Timea M. Webster, Facilitator, Words of Engagement Intergroup Dialogue Program, University of Maryland
209. Dr. Lisa M. Anderson, Associate Professor and Faculty Head, Women and Gender Studies, School of Social Transformation, Arizona State University
210. Ronald J. Stephens, Professor and Director, African American Studies and Research Center, Purdue University
211. Ngeri Nnachi, Clinical Legal Fellow, University of St. Thomas
212. Dejenaba Gordon, MPH, MPH Internship Director, Arcadia University
213. Beverly Guy Sheftall, Professor, Spelman College
214. Lynnee Denise, California State University of L.A.
215. Lewis Erskine, Assistant Arts Professor, NYU Tisch School of the Arts