USC sparks outrage by canceling Pro-Palestinian student's valedictorian speech

Los Angeles, California - The University of Southern California canceled a Muslim student's valedictorian speech over what it claimed to be safety concerns, after pro-Israel groups criticized her selection.

USC student and Class of 2024 valedictorian Asna Tabassum had her graduation speech canceled by the university over "safety concerns."
USC student and Class of 2024 valedictorian Asna Tabassum had her graduation speech canceled by the university over "safety concerns."  © CAIR California

Asna Tabassum was as Class of 2024 valedictorian chosen college officials from among scores of applicants with high academic grades.

She was supposed to deliver a speech at the May 10 graduation ceremony. But when pro-Israeli activists discovered she had posted an educational resource on Palestine, they quickly deluged her with accusations of "antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric."

On Monday, the university's provost, Andrew Guzman, responded to the pressure by taking the unprecedented decision to cancel her address.

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"Unfortunately, over the past several days, discussion relating to the selection of our valedictorian has taken on an alarming tenor," Guzman said in a statement.

"The intensity of feelings, fueled by both social media and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, has grown to include many voices outside of USC and has escalated to the point of creating substantial risks relating to security."

USC slammed for "succumbing to a campaign of hate"

USC was heavily criticized for succumbing to outside pressures and not supporting its student.
USC was heavily criticized for succumbing to outside pressures and not supporting its student.  © IMAGO / Pond5 Images

Guzman's statement gave no specifics, but the Los Angeles Times quoted Erroll Southers, the university's associate senior vice president for safety and risk assurance, as saying the institution had received threats by email, phone, and letter.

Individuals "say they will come to the campus," he said.

Tabassum criticized the decision, which she said was the result of the university "succumbing to a campaign of hate meant to silence my voice."

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No details of any threats to her or the university were shared with her, despite repeated requests.

"Although this should have been a time of celebration for my family, friends, professors and classmates, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian voices have subjected me to a campaign of racist hatred because of my uncompromising belief in human rights for all," she said in a statement.

Amid widespread outrage, the Council on American-Islamic Relations urged the university to immediately reverse its decision, while Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen – who is also a USC professor – said the institution has "disgraced itself."

Tabassum's case is just the latest in a long line since October 7 and the start of Israel's war on Gaza, as Muslim, Arab, and Pro-Palestinian students face censorship, suspensions, and outright violence on college campuses in the US.

Cover photo: CAIR California

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