• Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

California valedictorian will no longer give graduation speech over ‘alarming’ discussion

California valedictorian will no longer give graduation speech over 'alarming' discussion

The University of Southern California said its valedictorian will no longer deliver a graduation speech this year, citing “substantial risks relating to security” over social media chatter surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The Los Angeles school revealed that Asna Tabassum, a fourth-year student from Chino Hills, California, was selected as the valedictorian and would give a speech alongside two salutatorians. In a news release Monday, the university said she would no longer speak at the ceremony after the discussion about her selection took on “an alarming tenor.”

The move comes after some students, alumni and others complained to the university about Tabassum’s social media, which includes an Instagram bio that links to a pro-Palestine website.

“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,” Provost Andrew Guzman said in a statement.

Guzman said the school can not ignore that similar risks led to harassment and violence at other campuses. He added that the school’s Department of Public Safety and campus safety team have consulted to evaluate potential threats for graduation, which typically draws around 65,000 people.

“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,” he said.

Groups call to reverse USC decision

Tabassum addressed the university’s decision in a statement released through the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Los Angeles.

“Although this should have been a time of celebration for my family, friends, professors, and classmates, 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,” Tabassum said.

The council said the school’s decision empowers voices of hate, violates its obligation to project students and “sends a terrible message to not only Muslim students at USC but all students who dare to express support for Palestinian humanity.” It’s also urging the community to demand the school to allow Tassabum to speak at graduation.

Among the calls against Tassabum as a graduation speaker were student group “Trojans For Israel,” who said her selection turned “an inclusive and meaningful milestone into an unwelcoming and intolerant environment for Jewish graduates and their families.”

The 2024 commencement ceremony is scheduled for Friday, May 10.

War in Gaza stokes controversy worldwide

Controversies over the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict have been amplified since Oct. 7, 2023, when Hamas militants launched a brutal attack on Israel, killing approximately 1,200 people.

Over 30,000 Palestinians have died in Gaza since that day. The region is also difficult to access, leaving many civilians displaced and facing famine.

The crisis had led to protests for the release of Israeli hostages and to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, with those speaking out in support of Israelis and Palestinians on social media receiving threats.

Contributing: Kinsey Crowley

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USC cancels valedictorian’s speech over safety

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