USC Bans Pro-Palestinian Valedictorian From Commencement Speech

By  - 
University of Southern California campus. Photo courtesy of Fastily via Wikimedia Commons
Asna Tabassum (Photo courtesy of CAIR-LA)

The University of Southern California (USC) has banned the 2024 class valedictorian, a pro-Palestinian advocate, from speaking at a May commencement ceremony, citing safety concerns. The decision has seen criticism from the country’s largest Muslim civil rights organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). 

USC named Asna Tabassum valedictorian earlier this month. Tabassum is from Chino Hill, California, and will be graduating with a major in biomedical engineering and a minor in resistance to genocide.

In a statement released Monday, Andrew T. Guzman, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, said the decision was made to maintain the safety of the campus community and students, and is consistent with the legal obligation that universities act to protect students and keep the campus community safe.

Guzman included that the selection process for valedictorian has not changed at USC. The Valedictorian and Salutatorian Selection Committee evaluates submitted applications, and based on these recommendations, the final decision is made by Guzman.

In a statement, Tabassum said she was shocked by the decision to prevent her from speaking at commencement and expressed profound disappointment in the

Asna Tabassum (Photo courtesy of CAIR-LA)

university. She said that while university officials told her there were resources to take safety measures, they were concerned about their image.

“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,” said Tabassum. “This campaign to prevent me from addressing my peers at commencement has evidently accomplished its goal.”

The Greater Los Angeles Area Office of the CAIR (CAIR-LA) condemned the decision, calling it a response to “dishonest and defamatory attacks and harassment launched by anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian extremists,” and asked USC to change course.

“Even though USC has maintained Asna’s position as valedictorian, the cowardly decision to cancel her speech empowers voices of hate and censorship, violates USC’s obligation to protect its students and sends a terrible signal to both Muslim students at USC and all students who dare to express support for Palestinian humanity,” said Hussam Ayloush, CAIR-LA executive director.