USC cancels pro-Palestinian valedictorian’s graduation speech, citing safety concerns

An undergraduate valedictorian at the University of Southern California will not be allowed to speak at next month's commencement ceremony over safety concerns related to her pro-Palestinian views. 

The student, Asna Tabassum, a fourth-year biomedical engineering major from Chino Hills, has faced criticism for her stance on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Critics accused Tabassum of sharing content with anti-Semitic language on social media, including calling Zionists "racist settlers" and engaging with posts linked to anti-Semitism. USC administrators received complaints, prompting the decision to exclude Tabassum from speaking at the ceremony.

In response, USC Provost Andrew Guzman clarified that the decision was not about restricting free speech but was driven by the need to ensure campus safety and security protocols. 

"While this is disappointing, tradition must give way to safety," Guzman stated in a message to the university community.

In response to the exclusion, Tabassum expressed disappointment through the Council on American-Islamic Relations, stating, "I am surprised that my own university, my home for four years, has abandoned me."

Critics accused Tabassum of endorsing the complete abolishment of the state of Israel through her online activity. The decision to bar Tabassum from speaking marks the first time in USC's history that a valedictorian has been prevented from delivering a live commencement speech.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations-Los Angeles condemned the decision, demanding that Tabassum be allowed to speak. CAIR-LA Executive Director Hussam Ayloush called the university's decision "cowardly" and criticized the reasoning as "disingenuous."

In response to the uproar surrounding the valedictorian selection, Provost Guzman highlighted the heightened security risks and disruptions that have emerged amid the ongoing Middle East conflict and social media debates. "We must prioritize the safety of our community," Guzman emphasized.

The commencement ceremony, originally scheduled for Friday, May 10, will proceed without Tabassum's speech.

Below is a statement released by USC:

CNS contributed to this report.