- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2024

The White House this week dispatched a senior official to Morehouse College in Atlanta to quell concerns about potential pro-Palestinian demonstrations ahead of President Biden’s commencement speech.

Steve Benjamin, who heads the White House Office for Public Engagement, met with students and faculty ahead of Sunday’s graduation speech.

Since Morehouse College, which is historically Black, announced last month that Mr. Biden would deliver its commencement address, students and faculty have raised concerns. Some students have called on the school to rescind the invitation in protest of Mr. Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

Speaking at the White House press briefing on Thursday, Mr. Benjamin downplayed the meeting, insisting it wasn’t about fear of a student backlash.

“We talked about everything. I mean we talked about the status of the world. Certainly, many of them wanted to talk about the Middle East and war. We talked about reconnecting communities. … We talked about wealth creation. Each and every one of these young men — who I will say were exceptional — are going off to do great things,” he said.

Mr. Benjamin declined to answer questions about what kind of reception he expects the president will receive and insisted that canceling the speech was never under consideration.

“As long as there are peaceful protests that don’t disrupt the amazing moment that is for each of those graduates there today, I think we’ll all consider this a success,” he said.

The meeting included five students who are graduating on Sunday and four faculty members, Mr. Benjamin said.

On Thursday, roughly 50 Morehouse College faculty members voted to give Mr. Biden an honorary degree, but 38 voted against it and about a dozen abstained from the vote.

Protests against Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip erupted across college campuses last month, with some protesters occupying buildings and damaging property. Thousands of students across the country have been arrested, with several schools canceling graduation ceremonies and finals.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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