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USC cancels valedictorian speech over safety reasons

USC will not have its valedictorian deliver the 2024 commencement speech during graduation, citing security concerns, the school announced.

The decision was made after several organizations on and off campus raised concerns about Asna Tabassum and her online connection to anti-Semitic rhetoric.

While USC officials said while they can’t comment if they’ve received any threats, they said the ongoing conflict in the Middle East has contributed to violence at other campuses.

Shortly after USC announced Tabassum, a fourth year student from Chino Hills with a major in biomedical engineering and a minor in resistance to genocide, was selected as the 2024 valedictorian, there were calls for the university to reconsider their decision. 

Several organizations asked for USC to remove her as Valedictorian because of a link on her social media account that they said contains anti-Semitic language. Tabassum also said she added that link on her social media account five years ago and that she was not the author.

USC released a community message, explaining the decision: 

“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. It applies the same values and criteria that we have used in the past to guide our actions. In no way does it diminish the remarkable academic achievements of any student considered or selected for valedictorian. 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 issue here is how best to maintain campus security and safety, period.”

Tabassum, who is a first-generation South Asian American Muslim, told NBC Los Angeles that she was disappointed by the school’s decision to not have her speak at the graduation. She called this a “campaign of hate,” meant to silence her voice.

“As your class valedictorian, I implore my USC classmates to think outside the box — to work towards a world where cries for equality and human dignity are not manipulated to be expressions of hatred,” Tabassum said in a statement. 

Tabassum said she was not aware of any specific threats made against her or the university.  

“I challenge us to respond to ideological discomfort with dialogue and learning, not bigotry and censorship. And I urge us to see past our deepest fears and recognize the need to support justice for all people, including the Palestinian people,” she said.

Alex Morey, the director of Campus Rights Advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a free speech nonprofit, said USC needs to take a clear stance to provide clarity to students, parents and school employees.  

“They will help themselves by adopting positions for example of institutional neutrality where they say we are not going to take political sides, one way or the other and by standing by their really strong free speech principle in every instance, so that when something really controversial like this pops up, students, faculty, they know where USC is going to stand,” said Morey.

CAIR LA called this a “cowardly decision” by USC to not have Tabassum deliver the commencement speech.

Source: NBC Los Angeles

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