Morehouse says it will shut down commencement if students protest Biden speech – Mondoweiss

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When President Joe Biden gives the commencement speech at Morehouse College this weekend, it might be a short one.

Administrators at the historically black college have warned students that the event will be stopped if any “disruptive” behavior occurs.

Recent events suggest that there’s a good chance we’ll see some, as community members have consistently protested the administration’s support for Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza.

On Friday morning Atlanta University Center (AUC) Consortium students and alumni rallied outside the home of Morehouse College President Dave Thomas, calling him to rescind the Biden invite.

“I was compelled to participate in this action because it is time that President Thomas feels just a fraction of the distress Palestinian people have been living with since October 7th, only to have their humanity neglected by him,” said Morehouse student Anwar Karim at the action.

Earlier in the month many students Atlanta’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) protested outside Morehouse over Biden’s visit.

“While I understand why some of the older alumni might be excited by the amount of opportunity and press that this would bring to the institution, the general feeling on the ground is we don’t want him here,” one student told a local news station. “It’s very obvious that we are being used to score political points and try to get more Black votes.”

On May 14 Atlanta University Center (AUC) Consortium Alumni pledged to withhold donations to their alma maters disclose their investment portfolios and divest from companies connected to Israel. 

Kafia Haile, a 2002 graduate of Spelman College who helped organize the pledge, told Mondoweiss that these schools are not living up their historical legacies.

“All of our schools have this history where they say they support [Morehouse graduate] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and and Alice Walker,” said Haile. “They talk about all of the people that graduated from our schools but they don’t talk about the fact that student activism is actually repressed on the campuses. It’s not celebrated until we graduate.”

This sentiment was echoed by Kamau Franklin, head of Community Movement Builders, an organization that has helped lead the protests.

“Morehouse is being used as political cover for Biden,” he told Mondoweiss. “This commencement is taking place on Malcolm X’s birthday. Morehouse is the school that Dr. Martin Luther King to and we know he came out against Vietnam, which was also a genocidal war. Morehouse wants to blanket itself in this history, but bypass an understanding of it.”

The Biden speech comes amid a boom in campus Palestine activism, symbolized by the Gaza encampment movement. In recent days we’ve seen student protests at commencement ceremonies. This week faculty and staff from Columbia University and Barnard College organized a People’s Graduation at a New York City church for students facing disciplinary action over their activism.

One of the most violent police crackdowns on a student encampment occurred in Atlanta, where cops arrested dozens of students in a brutal raid.

Haile says there’s been a false media narrative suggesting that black schools haven’t been connected to this organizing.

“There’s a lot of activism that is happening on our campuses,” said Haile. “It’s just not being covered in the media and I also think there is a very concerted effort to portray the students as not wanting to protest. You can see that in the meetings, where the Biden administration sends black officials to talk to the students in closed door sessions. I really think there is a very clear effort to get our schools to be quiet.”

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