Education Secretary DeVos faces largely silent protest at Harvard speech

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Reuters) - U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was confronted by largely silent protesters holding signs opposing the Trump administration's promotion of for-profit schools and changes to how colleges handle sex assault allegations at a speech at Harvard University on Thursday.

DeVos ignored the protesters, but took questions from audience members on issues, including a White House move to reverse Obama-era guidance on how colleges should handle allegations of sexual assault on campus.

"One sexual assault is one too many, but by the same token, one that is denied due process is one too many," DeVos said. "So we need to be sure that policy is fair to all students."

More than a dozen protesters stood in the crowd holding signs reading "protect survivors," and "our students are not 4 sale." Many others stood or sat with raised fists.

As the event wrapped up and DeVos headed for the exit, the crowd broke into loud chants, including: "This is what white supremacy looks like!"

RELATED: Betsy DeVos through the years

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Betsy DeVos through the years
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Mary Schwalm

Continuing a day of one-on-one meetings with candidates for positions in his cabinet, President-elect Donald Trump met with Betsy DeVos, two polar opposites thought to be in contention for the education portfolio.

(Photo by Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, U.S. first lady Melania Trump and Jordan?s Queen Rania speak with students and administrators at the Excel Academy public charter school in Washington, U.S., April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks before U.S. President Donald Trump signed a memorandum "Increasing Access to High-Quality Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education" in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 30: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (L), who was dressed as Ms. Frizzle from 'The Magic Schoolbus' series, and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway attend Halloween at the White House on the South Lawn October 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump gave cookies away to costumed trick-or-treaters one day before the Halloween holiday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence stand with Betsy DeVos before their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Continuing a day of one-on-one meetings with candidates for positions in his cabinet, President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence met with Betsy DeVos, two polar opposites thought to be in contention for the education portfolio.

(Photo by Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump (C, background) waits to interrupt Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as she speaks to students at a school choice event at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Grant Hill #33 of the Los Angeles Clippers shakes hands with Owner Dick DeVos, Chairman of Amway and his wife Betsy DeVos during the game against the Orlando Magic during the game on February 6, 2013 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.

(Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)

US President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush wave after they were introduced by the Chair of the Michigan Republican Party Betsy DeVos 30 October 2004 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bush is on his final three days of campaigning prior for the election November 02.

(STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos makes remarks during a major policy address on Title IX enforcement, which in college covers sexual harassment, rape and assault, at George Mason University, in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Theiler
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and U.S. first lady Melania Trump are greeted by a student during a visit the Excel Academy public charter school in Washington, U.S., April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (C) and Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tom Price (R) attend a cabinet meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump, joined by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (from L), advisor Jared Kushner and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, thanks fourth-grade students Janayah Chatelier (3rd R) and Landon Fritz (R) for the "Happy Birthday Florida" card they gave him as he visits their classroom at Saint Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Florida, U.S. March 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump talks to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos during a meeting with teachers and parents at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (2nd R) and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) (R) arrive with President Donald Trump aboard Air Force One at Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida, U.S. March 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
CAMBRIDGE, MA - SEPTEMBER 28: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks in a forum at Harvard University Kennedy School of Government on Thursday, September 28, 2017. (Photo by Katye Martens Brier for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence emerge with Betsy DeVos after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

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The administration last week reversed guidelines established under former President Barack Obama on how colleges should handle sexual assault allegations, saying the prior policies led to too many students being falsely charged and disciplined.

The prior rules outlined a strict set of steps for schools to follow or risk losing funding under Title IX, the federal law that bars sex discrimination in education. Opponents of those rules said that they allowed schools to use lower standards of evidence of those followed in criminal proceedings.

While the cheers and jeers of protesters gathered outside the venue could faintly heard as DeVos spoke, the event avoided the scenes of students shouting down conservative speakers seen at universities around the United States over the past year. That trend that has drawn the scrutiny of the Justice Department.

Several activists also expressed concern that the administration's support of shifting funding from public schools to charter, private and for-profit schools would hurt low-income and minority communities.

"If you are trying to help a community, first you need to listen to what they need," said Latoya Gayle, a mother of three. "If she listened more, I think she would hear that what people need is not what she thinks they need."

DeVos, a billionaire who has drawn fire for her advocacy of for-profit schools, is married to the heir and former chief executive of Amway. She was confirmed in February when Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

 

(Reporting by Scott Malone; editing by David Gregorio, G Crosse)

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