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Thursday, May 23, 2024

USC Cancels Valedictorian’s Speech Amid Pro-Israel Groups’ Objections

The University of Southern California has announced the cancellation of this year’s valedictorian, Asna Tabassum’s, graduation speech due to security concerns. The decision was made in response to emails and electronic communications indicating a plan to disrupt the commencement, including threats targeting Ms. Tabassum.

Provost Andrew T. Guzman highlighted the alarming nature of discussions surrounding the valedictorian selection, which escalated due to social media activity and the ongoing Middle East conflict. However, the university did not disclose further details regarding the source or investigation status of these communications.

Ms. Tabassum, a biomedical engineering major of South Asian descent, expressed shock and disappointment at the decision, questioning whether safety concerns were the sole basis for revoking her speaking invitation. The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the cancellation as cowardly and urged USC to reconsider.

The incident underscores the challenges universities face in navigating free speech amidst contentious issues like the Israel-Hamas conflict. Dr. Guzman clarified that the decision did not impede freedom of speech, emphasizing that commencement speeches are not entitlements.

Erroll Southers, overseeing USC’s security, noted the unprecedented nature of the threats targeting the valedictorian and commencement ceremonies. Whether Ms. Tabassum will be allowed to sit on stage during the ceremonies remains undecided.

Selected from over 200 students with a GPA of at least 3.98, Ms. Tabassum’s accolades include volunteer work with nonprofit organizations in Los Angeles. However, her social media support for Palestinians sparked criticism from campus groups like Trojans for Israel and Chabad, who accused her of promoting antisemitism and anti-Zionist rhetoric.

Anuj Desai, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, suggested potential legal grounds for Ms. Tabassum to pursue, citing California law supporting students’ First Amendment rights. He cautioned against suppressing speech based on ideological differences.

Meanwhile, the City University of New York School of Law suspended its tradition of student-selected commencement speakers following a controversial speech by Fatima Mousa Mohammed. CUNY’s Board of Trustees labeled her remarks as hate speech, prompting concerns about upcoming ceremonies at Hunter College.

As universities grapple with balancing free speech and security, these incidents underscore broader debates over ideological diversity and expression on campus.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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