USC protests break out after anti-Israel valedictorian's commencement speech cancelled over safety concerns

Days after the University of Southern California (USC) announced it would cancel its valedictorian speech, along with all outside speakers during this year’s commencement ceremonies, protesters gathered on the school’s campus on Sunday to show support for the student.

USC announced it would not be allowing biomedical engineering major Asna Tabassum to give her valedictorian speech during the main stage commencement, which draws 65,000 people to the University Park Campus, following a series of social media posts she made about Israel.

“Given the highly publicized circumstances surrounding our main-stage commencement program, university leadership has decided it is best to release our outside speakers and honorees from attending this year’s ceremony,” a statement posted on the university’s commencement website read.

Tabassum’s social media, which critics called out as antisemitic, reportedly called for an end to the Jewish state. In a CNN interview, the USC valedictorian defended her position.


As the LA Times Festival of Books was hosted this year at USC, CODEPINK rallied in solidarity with the silenced 2024 valedictorian, Asna Tabassum.  (X/@codepink)

“The abolishment of the state of Israel, I‘d like to clarify, is the abolishment of an apartheid system. It inherently is a system that subjugates Palestinians as dehumanized. And it subjugates Palestinian life as not worth the same as other human life,” she said.

USC’s move sparked outrage as an organization called “CODEPINK” organized a demonstration to demand the school allow Tabassum to give her speech. “As the LA Times Festival of Books was hosted this year at USC, we rallied in solidarity with the silenced 2024 valedictorian, Asna Tabassum! Shame on USC! Reinstate Asna’s speech!,” the group wrote in a post on X.

According to the organization’s website, CODEPINK is a feminist grassroots organization working to end U.S. warfare and imperialism, support peace and human rights initiatives, and redirect resources into healthcare, education, green jobs and other life-affirming programs.

A spokesperson for the group told Fox News Digital that with the cancelation of all the graduation speakers, they are working on their next strategy.

‘Our hopes are that the voice of a young Muslim woman is not censored and silenced. Shame on USC for doing so,” the group said.


Hundreds of protesters gathered at the University of Southern California in support of Class of 2024 valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, after her commencement speech was canceled. (X/@codepink)

USC says the valedictorian is not being silenced for her political views on the ongoing unrest in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas but for the safety of Tabassum and others in attendance.

“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,” Andrew Guzman, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, wrote in the statement.

Guzman stated that the decision was necessary in order to maintain the school and its students’ safety.

“To be clear: this decision has nothing to do with freedom of speech. There is no free-speech entitlement to speak at a commencement. The issue here is how best to maintain campus security and safety, period,” Guzman wrote.

USC also told The Los Angeles Times that they had received threats via letters, phone calls, and emails.

Fox News’ Nikolas Lanum, Gabriel Hays, and Haley Chi-Sing contributed to this report.

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