University of South California Campus Erupts Over Cancelation Of Valedictorian Asna Tabassum’s Speech

by Gee NY
Asna Tabassum was selected as valedictorian and was offered a traditional slot to speak at USC's graduation next month until controversy arose and the university canceled her speech. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The University of Southern California (USC) campus is in upheaval following the cancellation of the graduation speech by valedictorian Asna Tabassum, igniting fierce debates over student activism, free speech, and allegations of antisemitism.

In an attempt to defuse tensions amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, USC President Carol Folt revoked Tabassum’s speaking slot, citing unspecified threats to campus safety.

However, the decision has only exacerbated divisions on campus, with protests erupting and faculty members condemning the move as a suppression of open communication.

“I’ve been here 24 years. It has never been this tense,” the L.A Times quotes Rabbi Dov Wagner, who leads the Chabad Jewish center at USC, reflecting the heightened atmosphere on campus.

Tabassum, a biomedical engineering major and minor in resistance to genocide, expressed feeling abandoned by the university and accused them of silencing her voice as a hijab-wearing Muslim woman.

“When you silence us, you make us louder,” Tabassum asserted in an interview with the L.A. Times.

The controversy stemmed from Tabassum’s political beliefs, which were hinted at through a link to a pro-Palestinian website on her Instagram profile.

Pro-Israel groups labeled her antisemitic due to the site’s anti-Israel content, sparking calls for her disinvitation from speaking at graduation or even from her valedictorian title.

While USC officials have defended their decision, citing concerns for campus safety, students and faculty members remain divided. Some argue for Tabassum’s right to free speech and academic expression, while others express discomfort with her alleged antisemitic views.

Brent Blair, a USC theater professor, stood by the Tommy Trojan statue with a poster declaring support for Tabassum’s right to speak.

“If USC wanted to create a mountain of resentment, they couldn’t have done anything more efficient,” Blair remarked.

Amid the escalating tensions, the university faces criticism from both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups.

Trojans for Israel, a student organization, accused USC of failing to condemn Tabassum’s alleged antisemitic rhetoric, while others argue that the university mishandled the entire controversy.

As the campus grapples with these complex issues, the debate underscores the challenges of navigating sensitive geopolitical topics in academic settings and the importance of upholding principles of free speech and inclusivity.

USC finds itself at the center of a contentious dialogue about the boundaries of academic freedom and the need for constructive engagement in addressing contentious issues.

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