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'My school abandoned me': California university cancels pro-Palestinian student's commencement speech

University of Southern California said Asna Tabassum, valedictorian for the class of 2024, will not be allowed to make a speech, citing 'security' concerns
On 6 April, the University of Southern California announced Asna Tabassum would be giving the commencement speech at this year's graduation ceremony.
On 6 April, USC announced Asna Tabassum would be giving the commencement speech at this year's graduation ceremony (Twitter)

The University of Southern California has cancelled a scheduled commencement speech by Asna Tabassum, citing unnamed security concerns after her selection as valedictorian was met with a wave of online attacks directed at her pro-Palestinian views.

"I am not surprised by those who attempt to propagate hatred. I am surprised that my own university - my home for four years - has abandoned me," Tabassum said in a statement shared online.

On 6 April, USC announced that Tabassum was selected as valedictorian, a student with the highest academic achievements in her year, for the graduating class of 2024.

After the announcement was published on social media, Tabassum began receiving online attacks from an account named, "We Are Tov", a group that describes itself as "dedicated to combating antisemitism".

The group's Instagram account posted Tabassum’s image and said she “openly promotes antisemitic writings”. The group also attacked her for liking Instagram posts from the student group, Trojans for Palestine.

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Another group, Trojans for Israel, called for the university to reconsider Tabassum's appointment, alleging she used “antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric”.

The university released a statement on Monday, saying that Tabassum would retain her position as valedictorian, but would not be allowed to give her commencement speech. The school said that the move was made to maintain safety on campus.

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"After careful consideration, we have decided that our student valedictorian will not deliver a speech at commencement," the school said in a statement.

"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."

The move to cancel her commencement speech was met with outrage from Muslim civil rights groups.

"This decision to cancel Asna's speech empowers voices of hate, violates USC's obligation to protect its students, and sends a terrible message to not only Muslim students at USC but all students who dare to express support for Palestinian humanity," the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement.

Since Israel's war in Gaza began in October, universities across the country have been cracking down on pro-Palestinian speech and activity.

Several schools were quick to ban the student groups, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.

On Sunday, a leading American political theorist was placed on leave from her tenured position at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York, after she wrote an essay on how mainstream academia has tried to police how people feel about the Hamas-led break out of Gaza on 7 October.

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