Petition to Remove Peter King Circulates

Since Rep. Peter King was named Queens campus commencement speaker on April 15, there has been a substantial amount of student backlash.

A petition asking to replace King as speaker was created on April 16 by seniors Jonaki Singh and Josephine Marescot – it has garnered 1,100 signatures since this morning.

“We found out he was going to be the commencement speaker, we looked into him, we saw who he was, and right after that we decided to start it to see if students felt the same way we did,” Singh said.

Several students have expressed their concern over King’s sociopolitical ideologies in light of the Congressman being named commencement speaker.

“We don’t feel that he embodies or embraces our University’s mission,” Marescot said. “The commencement speaker is supposed to put forth this image of how we are as a graduating class and what we have felt here at St. John’s – diversity. And we feel that he doesn’t put forth this image.”

King has been quoted on numerous occasions solidifying his belief that American Muslims should be monitored with an acute focus when suspicions of terrorism are being investigated.

“The overarching theme of this year’s graduating class is diversity,” President of the Muslim Students Association, Sami Ur Rabb, said. “From many of his [King] comments in the past, which he firmly stands by, we gather that he is an opponent of practical diversity.”

King declined an interview request by the Torch, instead stating in a press release that the protest of his selection is a result of students being “misguided and wrong.”

The University has said in a statement that this year’s commencement ceremony will “pay special tribute to those impacted by the events of SuperStorm Sandy.” Considering this, King was chosen to speak because of his efforts during the aftermath of Sandy.

“Congressmen King was selected as our speaker in Queens based on his bi-partisan efforts to secure much needed federal funding for New Yorkers following SuperStorm Sandy,” associate vice president for external relations, Dominic Scianna, said.

The College Republicans share the University’s stance concerning King’s appointment as commencement speaker.

“While we understand why many have voiced their concerns over certain comments made by the Congressman, we believe that Congressman King will be a terrific commencement speaker at graduation,” the College Republicans said in a statement.

Regardless of the mix of support and opposition of King, Singh and Marescot are still hoping to sit down with University administrators in the coming days to explain why they believe King is not fit to speak at their commencement ceremony.  “Students should have some sort of say in the commencement,” Singh said. “If they did, maybe all of this wouldn’t happen.”

In a statement e-mailed to the Torch, Scianna explained that the University usually takes recommendations for the commencement speaker from a committee made up of senior administrators, faculty, Student Government, Inc. student representatives and staff, but cited this year as an “exception” in light of SuperStorm Sandy.

Singh and Marescot stated during their interview with the Torch that University administrators would not meet with them to discuss the petition until it gathered 1,000 signatures. In the days since, the petition has surpassed the thousand signature mark, but Singh and Marescot have not yet received word when they will be granted a meeting with University officials.

Whether or not Singh and Marescot meet with administrators in the coming weeks, they expressed their astonishment at the publicity and support the petition has acquired.

“When we first created it, we didn’t even expect it to get in the hundreds,” Marescot said.