Citing safety, USC cancels speech by valedictorian who backs Palestinians

The University of Southern California cancels a commencement speech by its 2024 valedictorian who has publicly supported Palestinians, citing security concerns, a rare decision that is being praised by several pro-Israel groups and lambasted by free speech advocates and the country’s largest Muslim civil rights organization.

Andrew T. Guzman, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs for the private university in Los Angeles, says in a statement that debate over the selection of valedictorian Asna Tabassum to give the May 10 commencement speech took on an “alarming tenor.” Her speaking would have presented “substantial” security risks for the event, which draws 65,000 people to campus, he says.

While Guzman does not specify whether there had been threats, he says that “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 writes.

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