Home U.S. News U.S.C. Cancels Valedictorian’s Speech After Jewish Groups Object

U.S.C. Cancels Valedictorian’s Speech After Jewish Groups Object

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U.S.C. Cancels Valedictorian’s Speech After Jewish Groups Object

The University of Southern California said it has canceled plans for a graduation speech by this year’s valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, who is Muslim. The school said the decision stemmed from security concerns, after several pro-Israeli groups objected to her social media posts supporting Palestinians.

The decision drew immediate criticism from the Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, as well as from Ms. Tabassum, a biomedical engineering major.

“I am both shocked by this decision and profoundly disappointed that the university is succumbing to a campaign of hate meant to silence my voice,” Ms. Tabassum wrote in a statement. She has identified herself as a first-generation American of South Asian descent.

Free-speech controversies have overwhelmed many universities since the Israel-Hamas war began. University officials have had to handle vociferous debates over pro-Palestinian student protests, which many Jewish students and alumni say often veer into antisemitism. Protesters say that the pushback is an attempt to censor their political beliefs.

The U.S.C. decision to cancel the speech was announced on Monday by Andrew T. Guzman, the provost, who said he had made the final decision to choose Ms. Tabassum.

“Over the past several days, discussion related to the selection of our valedictorian has taken on an alarming tenor,” Dr. Guzman wrote. “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 U.S.C. and has escalated to the point of creating substantial risks relating to security and disruption at the commencement.”

Acknowledging that the decision to cancel a valedictory speech broke from university tradition, Dr. Guzman added, “To be clear: this decision has nothing to do with freedom of speech. There is no free-speech entitlement to speak at a commencement.”

The university, a private institution, did not respond immediately on Tuesday to a question about whether it had received a credible threat.

Ms. Tabassum could not be immediately reached for comment. In a written statement released on her behalf, she questioned the university’s motivation. “There remain serious doubts about whether U.S.C.’s decision to revoke my invitation to speak is made solely on the basis of safety,” she wrote.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights organization, issued a statement condemning the decision to cancel the speech as “cowardly” and demanded that U.S.C. reverse it.

The university announced on April 5 that Ms. Tabassum, who is from Chino Hills, Calif., would be the 2024 valedictorian. She was selected from among more than 200 students who met the academic qualification — a grade-point average of at least 3.98. From that group, a selection committee of faculty members evaluated more than 100 applicants.

The announcement of Ms. Tabassum’s selection cited her volunteer work with nonprofit organizations in the Los Angeles area, including a mobile blood pressure clinic that visits homeless shelters and a group she co-founded that distributes medical supplies to areas in need around the world.

Shortly after the announcement, a campus group known as Trojans for Israel issued a statement saying that Ms. Tabassum “openly traffics antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric.” It cited her social media bio that included a link to a page that calls Zionism a “racist settler-colonial ideology.” The group urged the university’s president, Carol Folt, to reconsider the selection of Ms. Tabassum.



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