USC Cancels Pro-Palestinian Commencement Speaker Over Safety Concerns

The University of Southern California (USC) canceled its pro-Palestinian valedictorian’s commencement speech, citing safety concerns.

“Tradition must give way to safety,” Andrew Guzman, USC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said in a statement this week.

“This decision is not only necessary to maintain the safety of our campus and students, but is consistent with the fundamental legal obligation — including the expectations of federal regulators — that universities act to protect students and keep our campus community safe,” Guzman added.

Asna Tabassum, USC’s class of 2024 valedictorian, said she was told on Monday that she would no longer be allowed to give a speech at the graduation ceremony in May.

“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,” Tabassum wrote in a statement released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

“And due to widespread fear, I was hoping to use my commencement speech to inspire my classmates with a message of hope,” she said. “By canceling my speech, USC is only caving to fear and rewarding hatred.”

CAIR called on the university to reverse its decision and allow Tabassum to speak.

“The dishonest and defamatory attacks on Asna are nothing more than thinly-veiled manifestations of Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism, which have been weaponized against college students across the country who speak up for human rights – and for Palestinian humanity,” Executive Director Hussam Ayloush wrote.

Tabassum said she met with university officials this week and asked about the school’s safety concerns but was told that although “the University had the resources to take appropriate safety measures” for the speech, it “would not be doing so since increased security protections is not what the University wants to ‘present as an image.'”

“Because I am not aware of any specific threats against me or the university, because my request for the details underlying the university’s threat assessment has been denied, and because I am not being provided any increased safety to be able to speak at commencement, there remain serious doubts about whether USC’s decision to revoke my invitation to speak is made solely on the basis of safety,” she said.