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University of Southern California cancels Muslim valedictorian's speech, citing security concerns

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University of Southern California cancels Muslim valedictorian's speech, citing security concerns
April 16, 2024
Reuters

(Reuters) - The University of Southern California canceled a graduation speech by its valedictorian, a Muslim student, saying it could spark violence or disruption due to the "intensity of feelings" around ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

The school's provost, Andrew Guzman, said in a statement on Monday that the decision to cancel the traditional graduation event had "nothing to do with freedom of speech" and was simply aimed at optimizing campus safety and security.

Guzman's statement did not specify what about the speech had raised concerns, nor did it mention the Israel-Gaza war, which has fueled passionate feelings and protests on U.S. campuses since it began on Oct. 7.

Rights advocates have also noted a rise in bias and hate against Muslims, Jews, Arabs and Palestinians in the United States since the war broke out.

Asna Tabassum, the valedictorian, said on Monday that the school had refused to give her the details behind its security assessment, adding that her studies in history and genocide resistance had shown her the danger of allowing hatred to silence people.

"Due to widespread fear, I was hoping to use my commencement speech to inspire my classmates with a message of hope," she said in a statement. "By canceling my speech, USC is only caving to fear and rewarding hatred."

Although neither Tabassum nor USC said in their statements that her speech would have addressed the Israel-Gaza war, local media reported that some groups had asked USC to revoke her valedictorian status because of a link on her social media that they said contained antisemitic language.

Tabassum's Instagram account had a link that directed users to a slideshow about "what's happening in Palestine and how to help." It advocated for "one Palestinian state" and "the complete abolishment of the state of Israel."

Tabassum told an NBC News affiliate that she posted the link five years earlier and did not author the slideshow.

Bias and hate incidents that have drawn national attention include the fatal October stabbing of 6-year-old Palestinian American Wadea Al-Fayoume in Illinois, the November shooting of three students of Palestinian descent in Vermont and the February stabbing of a Palestinian American man in Texas.

(Reporting by Julia Harte and Kanishka Singh; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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