The Nation and the World

USC campus protests cause school administrators to respond

The University of Southern California (USC) has recently grappled with student protests about the Israel-Palestine conflict, which has been a longstanding political issue since the founding of Israel. Such campus protests sparked school administrators to cancel the traditional valedictorian speech and main commencement ceremony originally scheduled for May 10.

On April 15, USC informed Asna Tabassum, the Muslim valedictorian, that she was not going to deliver a speech at commencement due to security concerns following backlash from some student activists. For instance, Trojans for Israel, a student advocacy organization, complained in an Instagram post that Tabassum has a “link to a curated media page, which calls Zionism a ‘racist settler-colonial ideology’ and advocates for the ‘complete abolishment’ of Israel” and “publicly propagates antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric.”  Tabassum responded, writing, “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…I am surprised that my own university–my home for four years–has abandoned me.” By canceling her speech, Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles, argues that the decision “empowers voices of hate and censorship, violates USC’s obligation to protect its students and sends a terrible signal to both Muslim students at USC and all students who dare to express support for Palestinian humanity” in a online statement. Originally, the regular commencement activities, besides the valedictorian speech, were to proceed as planned.

However, on April 19, USC announced that they were canceling the entire main commencement ceremony, and further upheaval arose among students since many in this college graduating class also had their high school graduations canceled because of COVID-19. The school claims, “we will not be able to host the main stage ceremony that traditionally brings 65,000 students, families, and friends to our campus all at the same time and during a short window [of time]” because of new safety measures and security concerns. While smaller, individual ceremonies for USC’s separate schools and colleges will continue, students still express their frustration and sadness. For example, Ashely Tobias, a USC student, shared with the Daily Trojan that “they [USC] have taken everything, not just from the students who are graduating, but from the students whose voices desperately need to be heard from our valedictorian who they chose.”

Amongst this chaos, debates surrounding the question of freedom of speech and diversity of opinion come to the forefront of people’s minds as, to some, it seems like USC is struggling to uphold its values of inclusivity and open conversation. 


Image Source: Los Angeles Times

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