April 15, 2024
Asna Tabassum

(LOS ANGELES, CA – 4/15/2024) – The Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) today condemned the University of Southern California (USC) for cancelling the scheduled graduation speech of USC student and Class of 2024 valedictorian Asna Tabassum in response to “dishonest and defamatory” attacks and harassment launched by anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian extremists.

TAKE ACTION: Tell USC to Reinstate Muslim Valedictorian’s Speech, Reject Anti-Palestinian and Anti-Muslim Hate

In a call this afternoon with USC Provost Guzman, Tabassum was told that the school could not maintain an appropriate level of security if she spoke due to the volume of security threats and harassment from pro-Israel critics. She was told this decision “was not a judgment on you and your accomplishments and ambitions.” The official claimed the volume of vitriol was “unprecedented.”

In an official statement issued, USC said: “After careful consideration, we have decided that our student valedictorian will not deliver a speech at commencement. While this is disappointing, tradition must give way to safety…The issue here is how best to maintain campus security and safety, period.”

CAIR-LA believes this would be the first time that a valedictorian has not been allowed to speak at commencement.

Tabassum released a personal statement about USC’s decision, saying in part:

“I am honored to have been selected as USC Class of 2024 Valedictorian. Although this should have been a time of celebration for my family, friends, professors, and classmates, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian voices have subjected me to a campaign of racist hatred because of my uncompromising belief in human rights for all.

“This campaign to prevent me from addressing my peers at commencement has evidently accomplished its goal: today, USC administrators informed me that the university will no longer allow me to speak at commencement due to supposed security concerns. 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 not surprised by those who attempt to propagate hatred. I am surprised that my own university—my home for four years—has abandoned me.”

In a statement, CAIR-LA Executive Director Hussam Ayloush said:

“USC cannot hide its cowardly decision behind a disingenuous concern for ‘security.’ Asna is an incredibly accomplished student whose academic and extracurricular accomplishments made her the ideal and historic recipient of this year’s valedictorian’s honor. The university can, should and must ensure a safe environment for graduation rather than taking the unprecedented step of cancelling a valedictorian’s speech.

“The dishonest and defamatory attacks on Asna are nothing more than thinly-veiled manifestations of Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism, which have been weaponized against college students across the country who speak up for human rights—and for Palestinian humanity. 

“The University of Southern California must stand by Asna Tabassum. Even though USC has maintained Asna’s position as valedictorian, the cowardly decision to cancel her speech 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.

“We call on USC to immediately reverse course, restore her speech and treat all students fairly and justly, starting with Asna. We look forward to USC’S swift response.”

He noted that last week, CAIR-LA condemned Pomona College’s forcible suppression of student activists’ free speech during an on-campus sit-in for Palestine and urged the administration to protect the first amendment rights of its students.

Last year, CAIR-LA condemned El Camino College’s statement and actions unjustly targeting recent graduate Jana Abulaban for speaking out against the Israeli government’s apartheid policies, ethnic cleansing, and other human rights abuses against the Palestinian people.

CAIR’s national office recently released its 2024 civil rights report, which revealed the highest number of complaints it has ever received in its 30-year history. 

CAIR-LA is Southern California’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims. 

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CONTACT: CAIR-LA Digital Communications Manager Enjy El-Kadi, (714) 851-4851 or eelkadi@cair.com