Free Speech No Longer A Right At USC, As It Prevents Valedictorian’s Speech

The University of Southern California (USC) has cancelled appearances by outside speakers and honorees at its upcoming graduation ceremony following the controversy surrounding the school’s decision to prevent Muslim valedictorian Asna Tabassum from delivering her speech. The university announced the decision on Friday, citing the need to maintain focus on the graduates.

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The university had planned to offer honorary degrees to filmmaker and alumnus Jon M. Chu, tennis legend Billie Jean King, geophysicist Marcia McNutt, and National Endowment for the Arts chair Maria Rosario Jackson at the ceremony. However, these individuals will no longer attend the event. USC stated that it hopes to confer the degrees at a future commencement or academic ceremonies.

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The university’s decision comes after it denied Tabassum, a first-generation South Asian American Muslim who studied biomedical engineering with a minor in resistance to genocide and an interest in global health care equity, the opportunity to speak due to security concerns. The controversy escalated when hundreds of demonstrators gathered on campus to protest the cancellation of her speech, chanting “Let her speak!”

Source: EEJC

Provost Andrew Guzman stated that the situation had taken on an alarming tenor and that the intensity of feelings, fueled by both social media and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, had grown to include many voices outside of USC. He added that these risks have previously led to harassment and violence at other campuses.

Source: EEJC

Tabassum issued a statement through the Council on American-Islamic Relations Los Angeles branch, expressing her disappointment and surprise that her own university would abandon her amid a campaign of racist hatred. She emphasized her commitment to human rights for all and urged people to stand up for what is right.

Source: EEJC

USC student advocacy group Trojans for Israel accused Tabassum of sharing a link in the bio of her Instagram page that called Zionism “a racist settler-colonial ideology” and advocated for its abolition. Tabassum clarified that she posted the link as part of her commitment to informing people about human rights issues and academic discourse, emphasizing that her minor in resistance to genocide and her interest in global health care equity should not be viewed in isolation from the events following October 7th.

Source: EEJC

The university’s decision marks the first time it has ever prevented its valedictorian from speaking at graduation. The 2024 commencement ceremony is scheduled for May 10.