Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Muslim student says US university cancelled valedictorian speech amid anti-Palestinian ‘hatred’

The University of Southern California has canceled its valedictorian speech from a Muslim student, Asna Tabassum, who said she was being silenced by anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian hatred.

The University cited safety concerns and passions around the latest Middle East conflict as reasons for the arbitrary action.

Asna Tabassum, a biomedical engineering major, was selected from 100 applicants to speak at the valedictory ceremony. This selection was made from among more than 200 graduating students who qualified for the honor after their grade point averages were analyzed by the university.

Asna Tabassum, in her own statement challenged the university’s rationale, questioning “whether USC’s decision to revoke my invitation to speak is made solely on the basis of safety.”

USC Provost Andrew Guzman said in a statement on Monday that the decision to scrub the traditional valedictorian address at next month’s graduation had “nothing to do with freedom of speech” and was simply aimed at protecting campus security, Reuters reported. Guzman’s statement did not refer to Tabassum by name, or specify what about her speech, background or political views had raised concerns. Nor did it detail any particular threats, the news agency reported.

Tabassum, in a statement, expressed that her minor studies in genocide resistance during her graduation highlighted the risk of purposefully confusing ‘calls for equality and human dignity’ with ‘expressions of hatred,’ and that she wanted to use this opportunity to educate and inspire her classmates with a message of hope.

However, her expectations met with disappointment when the university withdrew her invitation to speak without even consulting her or reviewing the speech she intended to deliver at the valedictory session.

Tabassum views this move by the university as, “caving to fear and rewarding hatred which is being directed by anti-Muslim and anti-Palestine voices and said that this is a targeted act because of her uncompromising belief in human rights for all,” as per the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group that circulated her statement.

She also put forward her views concerning safety in the meeting with the USC Provost and Associate Senior Vice President of Security and Assurance held on April 14 and was told that “the University has the proper resources to maintain safety” but would not want to do so because they do not want to “present an image” of “heightened security at the university.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize Winner and Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at USC, has called out USC for “silencing Asna Tabassum” and said, “USC has disgraced itself,” maintaining that he would refuse to attend the commencement of the valedictory.

In a statement, Nguyen said, “I am disgusted and angered by this failure of courage and commitment on the part of the administration. I have a hard time believing if a Jewish student was receiving similar threats the university would back down.”

He also highlighted how the university could have taken multiple measures to maintain the security of the campus but said by choosing to cancel the address, “The USC has exhibited where the force of censorship, silencing, and intimidation has fallen.”

He also called the action of the varsity a “failure to support its students and stand for academic principles.”

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