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Morehouse College President Will Not Rescind Biden’s Commencement Invitation Despite Objections

Morehouse College president Dr. David A. Thomas speaks during the Morehouse College commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 21, 2023, on Century Campus in Atlanta. The graduation marked Morehouse College’s 139th commencement program. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Despite student and some faculty objections, Dr. David Thomas, president of Morehouse College, has decided not to rescind Biden’s invitation to speak at commencement.

Chauncey Alcorn, political reporter for Capital B News was in the room Thursday night when President Thomas made the announcement and shared a thread of videos via X (formerly Twitter) from the forum.

In one of the clips, President Thomas can be heard saying he decided not to withdraw the invitation for several reasons. Dr. Thomas said Biden’s “body of work” over 50 years merits an honorary Morehouse degree and the world won’t see that as the school being “complicit with the atrocities that the Israeli military are committing in Gaza.”

President Thomas confirmed that he was the one who made the call to invite Biden and stressed that a presidential visit underscores Morehouse’s stature as an elite institution.

The pushback against leadership’s decision comes amid increasing protests on college campuses over Biden’s support for Israel in its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The protests since the war began in October have already forced Biden, and other top administration officials, to scale back appearances at college campuses dramatically.

Commencement season is typically a time when presidents reach young audiences, and it offers them opportunities to deliver keynote addresses highlighting their accomplishments and the future. In an election year, commencement speeches can carry particular significance.

But Biden’s addresses this year are poised to be fraught, largely because of growing protests over his refusal to call for a permanent, immediate cease-fire in Gaza without conditions. Biden is struggling with younger voters, and recent polling also indicates many Black voters are not enthusiastic about supporting his candidacy.

Speaking at a historically Black college would provide an “opportunity” for Biden, according to a person familiar with the controversy.

Morehouse, like other colleges, has faced students speaking out about the war in Gaza. In February, the Maroon Tiger — Morehouse’s student publication — reported that a student pulled an Israeli flag down from the chapel and was detained by campus police.

Some Morehouse students and faculty take issue with Biden’s support for sending taxpayer-funded military aid to Israel amid the Gaza humanitarian crisis, which has left more than 34,000 Palestinians dead and millions more starving.

“Students are not in favor of the way in which the United States has handled this situation, and are surely not in favor of the trauma and the pain and the genocide that the Palestinian people are going through — but also that innocent civilians and Israel are going through as well,” Calvin Bell, a Morehouse College student said in February, after the flag incident.

When President Thomas was asked whether he thought what was happening in Gaza was a “genocide,” he refused to answer.

One student during the forum said there should be “parameters put on what Biden says” during his speech. Another condemned Biden’s support for sending billions in aid to Ukraine while Black folks in Georgia and nationwide who voted for him are struggling to keep their homes and pay their bills.

President Thomas said Morehouse is currently in conversations with the White House about doing more direct engagement with students during his visit. He said he would raise the students’ concerns with the White House.

Morehouse commencement will take place on May 19th in Atlanta, Georgia.

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