President Trump signed a proclamation Friday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

On Friday, the College Board had a message for students from Africa, Haiti and Central America: Please come to the United States to further your education.

On Thursday, President Trump, in discussing the fate of certain immigrants, made a reference to “shithole countries,” suggesting the United States should instead bring in more people from places such as Norway — comments he denied Friday, even as a senator in the meeting insisted Trump had said such things repeatedly. Trump built a strong base of support by insisting on tightening U.S. borders. But his words singling out and denigrating entire countries and continents provoked harsh criticism.

David Coleman, president and chief executive officer of the College Board, felt compelled to respond.

He announced the board was contributing $100,000 to the African Leadership Academy, which prepares students across the continent to attend the world’s best colleges. He said the College Board, a nonprofit created to expand access to higher education, is looking for similar opportunities to support students from Haiti and Central American countries.

“The College Board’s members include nearly every college in America and our members are united. America’s colleges are hungry for the strength and talent of African, Haitian and Central American students — we witness and admire the work they have done on campuses throughout this country,” Coleman wrote.

” . . . Our purpose is to clear a path for all students to own their future. If you support or would like to contribute to our effort to welcome students from Africa, Haiti, and Central America please share your voice by tweeting #weneedyourlight.”

Many responded on social media.

Several university presidents declined, through representatives, to weigh in on Trump’s remarks. But Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, did not hesitate. She called Trump’s remarks reprehensible and contemptible. “It is absolutely despicable. . . . This is not about politics, this is about basic human morality,” she said. “It’s about how we treat people and other nations. It’s about a level of contempt for people who are poor and struggling. And it’s also deeply racist, and the racism must be called out, because that’s exactly what it is.”

Florida International University’s president, Mark B. Rosenberg, opened a Martin Luther King commemorative breakfast Friday by saying, “Yesterday, Washington hit a low point with respect to our neighbors and friends, including those from Haiti and El Salvador. We regret this. That is not how we think. This is not who we are. This is not who we aspire to be. I, personally, am disgusted by the senseless words coming from our senior-most leader. Our diverse international community is at the core of who we are, the core of our institutional and our community’s ethos.”

He spoke of the need to emulate King, and to speak up about injustice and racism. And he asked for a moment of silence to mark the anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010.

Others in academia responded on social media. Marcia Chatelain, an associate professor of history at Georgetown University, wrote an extended thread of observations on Twitter.

The United University Professions in New York described Trump’s remarks as “outrageous, inflammatory and reeked of racism. . . . Our union abhors this kind of hateful speech, and we will always be quick to rail against it. It is contrary to the values of academia, the workers’ movement, and the nation we serve and love.”

Sarah Larimer contributed to this report.