USC Valedictorian Asna Tabassum Receives Standing Ovation AmidControversy

USC valedictorian Asna Tabassum was barred from speaking at commencement due to pro-Palestinian links on her Instagram account. Despite this, she received a standing ovation at the student recognition awards ceremony, sparking protests on campus.

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Bijay Laxmi
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USC Valedictorian Asna Tabassum Receives Standing Ovation AmidControversy

USC Valedictorian Asna Tabassum Receives Standing Ovation AmidControversy

Asna Tabassum, the University of Southern California's (USC) Class of 2024 valedictorian, received a standing ovation at the student recognition awards ceremony on Friday, despite being barred from speaking at the university's commencement ceremony due to pro-Palestinian links on her Instagram account. The controversy surrounding Tabassum'sspeech, canceledhas sparked protests on campus and added to the ongoing debate over free speech and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Why this matters: This incident highlights the challenges of balancing free speech with concerns about hate speech and discrimination on college campuses, with implications for academic freedom and student activism. It also underscores the need for universities to navigate complex geopolitical issues and ensure that all voices are heard, without succumbing to external pressures.

In mid-April, USC announced that Tabassum would no longer speak at commencement due to unspecified safety concerns after pro-Israel groups accused her of being antisemitic. The university citeda linkon her Instagram account calling for the abolishment of the state of Israel. Tabassum, who is graduating with a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering and a minor in "resistance to genocide," has denied the allegations.

The decision to cancel Tabassum's speech led to pro-Palestinian demonstrators converging on USC's campus, setting up an encampment and erecting banners in violation of school policy. Campus security, with the help of the Los Angeles Police Department, cleared the encampment on April 24, arresting nearly 100 people. Smaller demonstrations have also been dispersed.

USC later replaced its main graduation ceremony with a series of private events, including one at the LA Memorial Coliseum. The university's Academic Senate voted to censure university President Carol Folt and Provost Andrew Guzman over the mishandling of the issues leading up to the cancellation of commencement.

Tabassum released a largely redacted version of the speech she would have delivered on Friday, which was published by Annenberg Media and the Daily Trojan, the university's student-run newspaper. The speech begins with "President Folt, Provost Guzman, faculty, staff, families and fellow Class of 2024" and ends with "Congratulations, Class of 2024. Thank you," with 10 paragraphs of redactions in between.

The controversy at USC is part of a larger movement, with collegiate demonstrations erupting across the country, calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and demanding universities divest from companies profiting off Israel's war in Gaza. The protests have added pressure on President Joe Biden and his administration to cut off military aid to Israel as the threat of anIsraeli invasionof Rafah looms.

Despite the challenges, Tabassum remains steadfast in her convictions. "I am both shocked by this decision and profoundly disappointed that the University is succumbing to a campaign of hate meant to silence my voice,"she said. "I am not surprised by those who attempt to propagate hatred. I am surprised that my own university, my home for four years, has abandoned me. "As the Class of 2024 moves forward, the standing ovation for Tabassum serves as a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggle for free speech and justice on college campuses across the nation.