USC Bars Pro-Palestinian Valedictorian from Commencement Speech

( – On April 15, the University of Southern California announced it would bar its pro-Palestinian valedictorian from delivering her commencement speech during its May 10 Class of 2024 graduation ceremony, citing safety concerns.

In a message to the university community, Provost Andrew Guzman said, “Tradition must give way to safety.” Guzman stated that the decision does not “diminish the remarkable academic achievements” of the student selected as valedictorian. Guzman added the issue is not freedom of speech but “how best to maintain campus security and safety.” Guzman said that “substantial risks relating to security and disruption” of the graduation ceremony grew after the announcement of the valedictorian selection, adding that “the safety of our community” must be a priority.

A biomedical engineering major with a minor in resistance to genocide, Chino Hills, California native Asna Tabassum, was previously announced as USC’s valedictorian. Critics raised safety concerns after seeing her views about the conflict in the Middle East she posted online.

A statement from the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Los Angeles demanded that the university reverse its decision.

Through CAIR-LA, Tabassum released a statement that “anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian voices” have resulted in “a campaign of racist hatred” against her. She added that the decision not to allow her to speak left her “shocked,” “profoundly disappointed,” and “surprised” that her school abandoned her.

The decision to not allow Tabassum to speak is “cowardly” and the reasoning “disingenuous,” according to CAIR-LA Executive Director Hussam Ayloush. Ayloush added that the university should have taken more safety precautions instead of canceling the speech.

USC students also reacted to the news, stating the university’s decision has “consumed our campus.” USC senior Amir Bell noted that some students are thinking about what they can do during the graduation ceremony. While others say what Tabassum believes or posts on social media should not result in her losing her right to free speech.

This is the first time a valedictorian has been banned from speaking at USC.

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