Demonstrators march over USC decision to cancel valedictorian speech

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Friday, April 19, 2024
Demonstrators protest USC decision to cancel valedictorian speech
Many students and faculty members accuse USC of censorship for not allowing valedictorian Asna Tabassum to speak at commencement.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Hundreds of demonstrators gathered on the USC campus on Thursday amid a controversy over the cancellation of a speech by the school's valedictorian.

Many students and faculty members are accusing the university of censorship for the decision to not allow Asna Tabassum to speak at commencement.

Tabassum has expressed pro-Palestinian views, including some that have led to accusations of antisemitism. The university cited safety concerns for an event that draws thousands to campus.

That doesn't sit well with many students, who note the university has handled high-profile speakers before who presented security challenges.

"Given the lack of transparency and clarity the university hasn't done a great job from a communication standpoint," said USC graduate student Aisha Patel. "I studied communication and they handled it terribly."

Earlier this week, the university defended its decision, saying it was not a matter of free speech, but of maintaining security on campus.

Provost and senior vice president Andrew Guzman issued a statement that read in part: "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."

Tabassum spoke to Eyewitness News earlier this week, saying she was not given specifics by 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."

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."