Morehouse College Faces Controversy for Inviting Biden as Commencement Speaker Amidst Objection From Faculty and Students


Last week, Morehouse College announced President Biden as the commencement speaker, igniting a firestorm of debate. While the news was meant to be celebratory, it instead drew criticism from students, faculty, and alumni. The backlash stems from Biden's support for Israel, which some view as contradictory to the college's values and history.

Morehouse College Faces Controversy as Biden Set to Deliver Commencement Speech

(Photo : WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / The White House)

A Divided Campus

Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine - Georgia issued a statement urging Morehouse to rescind Biden's invitation. They warned that hosting Biden could alienate donors, prospective students, and lead to protests related to the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict. The group expressed disappointment, stating that Biden has not shown sensitivity to wrongs, sufferings, and injustices, particularly regarding the conflict.

Alumni also joined the dissent, releasing a letter calling on the campus community to voice their objections. They referenced Martin Luther King Jr.'s anti-war stance, highlighting the need to speak out against injustices. This sentiment reflects a broader concern among some alumni and faculty that Biden's policies do not align with Morehouse's principles.

Students echoed these sentiments at a town hall meeting, where President David A. Thomas defended the decision, emphasizing Biden's significance. However, students expressed worries about the timing, as Biden's visit could overshadow their achievements and lead to distractions during an election year.

Calvin Bell, a senior who voted for Biden in 2020, acknowledged the historic nature of the visit but hoped the college would reconsider. He emphasized the need for Biden to address the Gaza conflict in his speech, rather than focusing solely on his record of support for HBCUs.

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Political Ramifications

The backlash comes at a critical time as the Biden administration seeks to engage young Black voters. Polls indicate that while many Black youth lean Democratic, there is a significant portion that remains undecided. The administration's efforts to appeal to this demographic could be hindered by the controversy surrounding Biden's upcoming speech.

Stephane Dunn, an English professor at Morehouse, sees Biden's visit as an opportunity for the president to address concerns directly. She believes that acknowledging dissent is crucial in a democratic society, especially on college campuses.

Morehouse's debate reflects a broader trend of pro-Palestinian activism on college campuses nationwide. Students are increasingly using their platforms to protest against perceived injustices, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The college's response to this activism, including hosting forums for dialogue, demonstrates a commitment to fostering diverse viewpoints.

Looking Ahead

As the commencement approaches, Morehouse faces the challenge of balancing its commitment to free expression with the need to ensure a respectful ceremony. Provost Kendrick Brown expressed confidence in the community's ability to engage in constructive dialogue, emphasizing the importance of diverse perspectives.
In response to the backlash, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre highlighted the significance of commencement ceremonies as celebrations of accomplishment. She indicated that Biden's speech would focus on inspiring graduates and their families, acknowledging the current moment but also offering a message of hope.

Despite the controversy, Morehouse sees Biden's visit as a chance for students to engage with differing viewpoints. Brown believes that encountering diverse perspectives is central to the college experience, fostering critical thinking and meaningful dialogue.

Morehouse College's decision to invite President Biden has sparked intense debate on campus. While some view the invitation as an honor, others see it as conflicting with the college's values. The controversy highlights the complexities of navigating political differences in academic settings and underscores the importance of dialogue and understanding. As Morehouse prepares for graduation, it faces the challenge of maintaining a respectful and inclusive environment while allowing for dissent and debate.

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