Apr 17, 2024

USC Valedictorian Commencement Speaker Controversy

Asna Tabassum speaks about her canceled speech
RevBlogTranscriptsAsna TabassumUSC Valedictorian Commencement Speaker Controversy

USC says it’s canceling a planned graduation speech by its valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, due to safety concerns. Read the transcript here.

Speaker 1 (00:00):

New at 6 tonight, controversy at USC over a commencement speaker. The school’s valedictorian will not be delivering this year’s address for safety reasons. Good evening, everyone. I’m Colleen Williams. Carolyn is off tonight. NBC4’s Tracey Leong joins us live with more on the decision today that just came down. Tracey?

Speaker 2 (00:22):

Yeah. Colleen, USC made this decision several hours ago, citing student safety. Now, this all started over the past several days. USC says there have been concerning conversations about their selection of the valedictorian and how this could threaten the campus safety. And while they can’t comment if they’ve received any threats specifically, they say the ongoing conflict in the Middle East has led to harassment and violence on other campuses.

Now, shortly after USC announced their 2024 valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, a fourth year student from Chino Hills with a major in biomedical engineering and a minor in resistance to genocide, there were calls for the university to reconsider their decision. Several organizations asked for USC to remove her as valedictorian because of a link on her social media account that they say contains anti-Semitic language. I spoke to Tabassum, who is a first generation South Asian American Muslim. She tells me she’s disappointed by the school’s decision to not speak at the graduation, and calls this a campaign of hate, meant to silence her voice.

USC released a community message on their decision, saying in part, “The decision is not only necessary to maintain the safety of our campus and students, but it is consistent with the fundamental legal obligation, including the expectations of federal regulators that universities act to protect students and keep our campus communities safe. It applies the same values and criteria that we have used in the past to guide our actions. In no way does it diminish the remarkable academic achievements of any student considered or selected for valedictorian. 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.”

Tabassum also released a statement saying, in part, “As your class valedictorian, I implore my USC classmates to think outside the box, to work towards a world that cries for equality and human dignity are not manipulated to be expressions of hatred. I challenge us to respond to ideological discomfort with dialogue and learning, not bigotry and censorship. And I urge us to see past our deepest fears and recognize the need to support justice for all, including the Palestinian people.” The Director of Campus Rights Advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a free speech group, Alex Morey, commented on USC’s decision.

Speaker 3 (02:43):

They will help themselves by adopting positions of, for example, institutional neutrality, where they say, “We’re not going to take political sides one way or the other.” And also by standing by their really strong free speech principles in every instance, so that when something really controversial like this pops up, students, faculty, they know where USC is going to stand.

Speaker 2 (03:08):

CAIR-LA also released a statement calling USC’s decision a cowardly decision. Tabassum also tells you that that link that’s on her social media account, she posted five years ago. Reporting live outside of USC’s campus, Tracey Leong for NBC4 News.

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