Pro-Palestinian valedictorian speaks out after USC cancels commencement speech

Tabassum said she isn't buying the safety claim and said she wasn't provided specifics when she pressed university officials.

ByTim Caputo KABC logo
Wednesday, April 17, 2024
USC cancels Muslim valedictorian's commencement speech, citing safety concerns
The University of Southern California has canceled a student valedictorian's commencement speech out of safety concerns concerning her pro-Palestinian views.

LOS ANGELES -- Asna Tabassum - USC's 2024 valedictorian who has publicly supported Palestinians - is speaking out after the university canceled her commencement speech, citing safety concerns.

Tabassum told ABC Los Angeles affiliate KABC that she isn't buying the safety claim and said she wasn't provided specifics when she pressed university officials.

"Almost a one-way conversation - and then the next day they came to me, they gave me a call and said 'It's unfortunate, but you don't get to speak,'" Tabassum recalled.

The biomedical engineering student, who will also graduate with a minor in resistance to genocide, said she's energized by the support she's received following the unprecedented move by USC.

"It has been a roller coaster, and I would say that's the best way to describe it," Tabassum said. "It's a very unstable set of feelings and emotions."

The video in the player above is from a previous report.

For the last few weeks, she has felt like she's been under a microscope for her pro-Palestinian views and social media activity. She's been to protests and is a vocal activist - and doesn't regret a minute of it.

"I stand by exactly what I stand by. It is the very values and the very lessons USC taught me that I stand by," she said. "And I don't believe it's ironic for me to minor in something called resistance to genocide, and then speak out on it and then be revoked because I'm penalized for something that people have an issue with."

Andrew T. Guzman, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at USC, said in a statement Monday that debate over the selection of Tabassum to give the commencement speech took on an "alarming tenor." Her speech would have presented "substantial" security risks for the event that draws 65,000 people to campus, he said.

While Guzman did not specify whether there had been threats, he said "we cannot ignore the fact that similar risks have led to harassment and even violence at other campuses."

"The intensity of feelings, fueled by both social media and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, has grown to include many voices outside of USC and has escalated to the point of creating substantial risks relating to security and disruption at commencement," Guzman wrote.

Groups like Trojans For Israel have accused Tabassum of being anti-Semitic in online posts.

"Because explicitly in her bio, she states that she calls for the abolishment of the state of Israel, which is complete anti-Semitic, and that makes us Jewish students at USC feel unsafe, unheard, and targeted," said Trojans for Israel Vice President Ella Echo.

In his statement, Guzman asserted that the decision was solely about safety and came after consulting the "expert campus safety team."

"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 wrote.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.