From the “Trump can’t do anything right department” comes a front-page story in Saturday’s New York Times: “Handshakes at the White House, Hand-Wringing at Black Colleges” by Anemona Hartocollis and Noah Weiland.
The Times has spent the last year excoriating then-candidate, now-President Trump for either being racist himself or encouraging racism in his supporters. But after a productive meeting at the White House with representatives of historically black colleges and universities, the paper devoted space on Page A1 to keep the fires burning. The reporters instantly inserted racially inflammatory left-wing protest graffiti:
It was a scalding message, painted on a university campus sidewalk this week: “Welcome to the Trump plantation. Overseer: Wayne A. I. Frederick.”
What made the message more jarring still was that Dr. Frederick is the black president of one of the country’s most respected historically black institutions, Howard University, founded here 150 years ago as a bulwark of social justice. Other graffiti on campus buildings said, “Wayne Frederick doesn’t care about black people,” and “Make Howard black again.”
And on Thursday, students disrupted a university convocation to protest what they saw as Howard University’s catering to the Trump administration. One student confronted Dr. Frederick, shouting: “Someone might have convinced you that money is more important than people. But we are asking you, in this moment, to choose us, to take a stand for us, and to do right by us.”
The student backlash came after Dr. Frederick and more than 60 other leaders of historically black colleges and universities gathered for a meeting on Monday with top officials of the Trump administration, including the new education secretary, Betsy DeVos. As the meeting was getting underway, participants said, it was interrupted to invite them to an impromptu visit with President Trump in the Oval Office.
A photograph of the black leaders smiling and chatting with Mr. Trump around his desk was widely circulated and instantly became a flash point for students who believe the administration has been insensitive to the needs of black Americans.
“Is it a photo op, is it an opportunity for Trump to put himself next to black people and smile?” Llewellyn Robinson, a Howard sophomore, said, after the graffiti had been wiped clean. “Is that the situation we’re dealing with? Or is it truly a seat at the table?”
Many of the black leaders who met with Mr. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other members of the administration said that they had no apologies for what they called institution building, a chance to make a personal connection with Mr. Trump in the hope that his administration would invest in the future of their colleges and universities.
The paper used two nothing controversies to fan the racial flames.
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But the students saw the meetings as political cover for Mr. Trump, and some awkward details of his administration’s encounter with the black academic leaders only reinforced their skepticism.
Many saw it as disrespectful when Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser to Mr. Trump, was photographed sitting with her feet tucked under her on a couch in the Oval Office, fiddling with her phone, as Mr. Trump and the black leaders stood in the background.
Ms. DeVos was criticized for saying, in a statement in honor of the meetings, that “H.B.C.U.s are real pioneers when it comes to school choice,” referring to historically black colleges and universities. Some were offended by the implication that black institutions were created as a free-market choice, rather than by necessity because of segregation.
Joy Pullman at The Federalist argued that “what really offends them is not that DeVos said historically black institutions offer options to children who would otherwise have fewer, but that the Trump administration’s outreach to African-American families threatens Democrats’ undeserved political monopoly on the black vote and its massive take from teachers unions, which in many states teachers must join to be allowed a public-school job.” That other side of the argument was absent from the NYT’s aggrieved front-page take.
At Thursday’s convocation at Howard, students raised fists and held signs saying, “Trump is Not Welcome @ Howard,” and “Don’t Take Trump Hu$h Money,” before being escorted from the auditorium by security, the students said. As they paraded out, they chanted, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Students said that Dr. Frederick’s visit to the White House had been a topic of conversation in classes all week. Residents of one dorm held a town hall-style meeting on Wednesday night to discuss it.
The protest is a striking departure from the student demonstrations against racial injustice that have roiled campuses for two years because it was focused on White House politics.
The Times eventually heard from the college presidents “defending” the meeting.
Dr. Frederick declined to comment on Thursday. But late Thursday, after the convocation was disrupted, he released a two-page letter to the “Howard University Community” defending his contact with the Trump administration and his meeting on campus with Ms. DeVos. “I can assure you these engagements will occur without compromising our principles,” the letter said.
Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and chief executive of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said his group -- which represents 47 publicly supported black colleges and universities -- had asked for a meeting with Mr. Trump, and was elated when it was granted. The group had asked for a meeting with President Barack Obama every year for eight years and had never heard back, he said.