Pro-Palestine Valedictorian Banned From Commencement Speech

( – A Los Angeles college has broken with tradition and announced that its valedictorian won’t be allowed to speak at the commencement ceremony. The student has been accused of antisemitism, and college officials say letting her speak could cause dangerous tensions. The student’s defenders are pushing back, claiming the speaking ban is Islamophobic.

College Chooses Controversial Valedictorian

On April 2, the University of Southern California (USC) named Asma Tabassum as valedictorian of the Class of 2024. A first-generation American born to South Asian parents, Tabassum has a major in biomedical engineering and a minor in resistance to genocide. When she applied to be valedictorian she was awarded the honor based on her near-perfect grades, work for local charities, and setting up a student club that reallocated medical supplies from USC’s medical school to conflict zones around the world.

However, not long after Tabassum was picked, people started looking through her social media history — and it turns out she’s a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause. Nobody’s suggested that she supports violence against Jews, but it’s an emotive issue on college campuses right now.

In February pro-Palestinian protesters attacked a Jewish student event at the University of California, Berkeley, forcing police to evacuate attendees. It seems USC was worried Tabassum would give a pro-Palestinian speech at the May 10 commencement ceremony and trigger similar violence.

In an April 15 statement, the college’s provost, Andrew Guzman, announced “After careful consideration, we have decided that our student valedictorian will not deliver a speech at commencement.” He said the decision was “disappointing” but added, “tradition must give way to safety.”

Two-Way Backlash

Needless to say, the decision hasn’t been universally popular. Tabassum claims to have been the victim of “a campaign of racist hatred,” and complained the college had “abandoned” her. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations slammed the decision as “cowardly.”

On the other hand, Jewish groups aren’t happy either. The clear implication in the college provost’s statement was that if Tabassum’s speech was pro-Palestinian, it could trigger a violent reaction. Who did the college think that violence would come from? Guzman’s statement didn’t give any hints, but the political violence following Hamas’s October 7 terrorist assault on Israel has overwhelmingly come from the pro-Palestinian side.

However, Rabbi Dov Wagner, a Jewish chaplain at USC, said Jews were “now being portrayed as threatening the safety of the valedictorian.” He said the college should have condemned Tabassum’s activism instead of shifting the blame to Jews. It looks like the latest exercise in no-platforming has managed to annoy both sides of the debate.

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