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Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador behind vetoes on Gaza ceasefire, out as XULA commencement speaker

The Black Louisiana native has faced global criticism for her U.N. votes. Student backlash this week has pulled the plug on a graduation address.

U.S. Ambassador U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield casts a veto vote against a ceasefire in Gaza during a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York on February 20, 2024. (Angela Weiss/AFP)

Xavier University of Louisiana has announced it will not have U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield as its undergraduate commencement speaker this weekend, following criticism from students over the controversial pick.

Multiple campus groups at the Catholic HBCU have released statements in the past week condemning the school administration’s choice of Thomas-Greenfield, who has served as the U.S. voice in voting against multiple ceasefire proposals amid the Israel-Hamas War.

“In recent days, we have heard the voices of a number of students and others in the Xavier community, who have expressed reservations over the invitation to Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield to serve as our 2024 commencement speaker and have shared their strong views on the United States’ position on the conflict in the Middle East,” XULA President Reynold Verret said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The vast majority of students want to be able to enjoy a commencement ceremony free of disruptions. Therefore, we will not be moving forward with the commencement speaker as originally planned. We came to this regrettable conclusion together with Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield's team.”

XULA originally announced the Black Louisiana native as their commencement speaker on May 5, just one day after her scheduled graduation speech at the University of Vermont was canceled following student protests and backlash.

That weekend, Hamas-run health authorities announced that the Palestinian death toll in Gaza had risen to 34,683—the vast majority of them women, children, medical staff, and journalists. 188 of the dead are U.N. staff members.

Students at Xavier responded swiftly to the invite, with student groups taking to online channels the same day as the administration’s announcement.

“Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has not played a direct role in the furthering of the Xavierite mission; she has not contributed to the scholarly success at Xavier, has not represented our mission through her actions as UN ambassador, has allowed for the continuation of systematic oppression, and does not represent our student body,” reads an unsigned statement shared by the XULA Muslim Students Association (MSA) on May 5.

A matching petition was shared by Xavier senior Zaynab Al-Rashed and gained nearly 1,800 signatures before being marked successful when Thomas-Greenfield’s ouster was announced.

“Her presence poses a potential source of disruption in what should otherwise be a day of celebration,” the statement added.

Also on May 5, XULA Student Government Association (SGA) President Chase Patterson shared his a message on behalf of the SGA executive board and the student body at large, expressing “concern and disapproval.”

“Xavier University of Louisiana has proven to be a beacon of social justice and human rights, and we cannot stand by in good conscience while actions that disregard the sanctity of human life are endorsed,” he wrote.

The recent events in Gaza have resulted in a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions, with countless innocent lives lost and communities shattered.” 

Both the MSA and SGA called for the university to disinvite Thomas-Greenfield from the university’s commencement exercises. Additionally, the Muslim students at XULA called for the university to “amplify calls for a ceasefire,” which Verret did not do in his statement—failing to mention widespread fears of genocide or even the parties in what it merely termed “the conflict in the Middle East.”

Patterson called for the university to revamp the process for its annual commencement speaker selections to ensure an individual “resonates with the majority of our community and upholds the moral integrity of Xavier University of Louisiana.”

As of Friday morning, XULA has not announced a replacement speaker for its Saturday afternoon ceremony—possibly following the lead of other universities that have chosen in recent weeks to forgo additional invites after canceling a first choice due to criticism.

Thomas-Greenfield, who has served as the nation’s ambassador to the U.N. since 2021, could not be reached for comment on this week's news.

As for the school’s administration, President Verret says the door is not closed on having Thomas-Greenfield speak at Xavier at another time.

“We look forward to welcoming the Ambassador to campus in the future,” Verret wrote, “to engage with our students and faculty in substantive conversations.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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