Biden to deliver Morehouse commencement address over student, faculty concerns

By Andrea Shalal and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden has no plans to abandon giving the commencement address at Morehouse College, a historically Black men’s college in Georgia on May 19, White House officials said on Monday, shrugging off criticism from some faculty and students over his Israel policies.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Monday that Biden would proceed as planned at the historic college founded in 1867, whose alumni also include civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

“He’s looking forward to doing that. It is such an important moment in time,” Jean-Pierre told a regular briefing at the White House.

Morehouse spokesperson Jasmine Gurley said no changes were planned regarding Biden’s speech. “We’re moving full speed ahead,” she said.

Miles Ross, a senior at the college, told Reuters he felt Biden’s visit was “clearly a political move.”

“I’m totally against it,” he said. “People feel very strongly about what’s going on with Palestine, Gaza, Congo, especially here on campus. So if he starts to talk about anything like that … he’s going to open himself up to a lot of scrutiny and criticism.”

Biden, a Democrat, is seeking to shore up support among Black voters ahead of the November presidential election, where national polls show he is tied with former President Donald Trump. Vice President Kamala Harris started a nationwide tour Monday to promote the administration’s policies to Black voters, especially men.

Pro-Palestinian protests and encampments have spread at universities across the country in recent weeks, after Columbia University summoned New York City police to dismantle tents and arrest over 100 people.

Some Morehouse faculty members and students want the college to withdraw its invitation to Biden over his administration’s staunch support for Israel’s war in Gaza, where the death toll has mounted over 34,500. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. aid since World War Two, and the U.S. has blocked several United Nations votes critical of Israel’s attacks.

Jared Loggins, a professor of Black studies and political science at Amherst College and alumnus of Morehouse, called the invitation a “moral disaster”, especially given the fervent anti-military views of Rev. King.

Tom Perez, a senior adviser to Biden and director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, said Biden was looking forward to the visit, in part because of the school’s connection with Rev. King.

“Joe Biden came of age in the civil rights movement and his whole world view was formed as being part of the protest movement and in particular, the protest movement about the mistreatment of black people in Delaware and across America,” Perez said.

Perez said he and other top administration officials would continue to engage directly with Arab and Muslim communities in Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Heather Timmons)

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