Student organizations say: Let our valedictorian speak at commencement

Our open letter has been co-signed by 65 University student and local organizations.

(Vivienne Tran / Daily Trojan)

We, as members of the concerned USC student body, write this letter of our own accord. 

Earlier this month, the USC administration announced Asna Tabassum as the valedictorian for the Class of 2024. Just minutes after the announcement, anti-Palestinian students and groups initiated an onslaught of hate and harassment across social media, with the goal of intimidating Tabassum and forcing her removal as valedictorian. 

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While the administration brought national attention to our valedictorian, selected by a committee of USC faculty for her academic and extracurricular achievements, the administration offered no public support for her during this extremely tumultuous time. 

It was then announced that she would not be speaking at graduation. 

As students of this University, we are beyond outraged and ashamed at the administration’s decision to bar our valedictorian from speaking at our upcoming Class of 2024 commencement and emphatically denounce this decision and the repressive sentiment it embodies. 

We would like to make this very clear: When you are silencing her, you are silencing all of us. 

When USC uses the rhetoric of safety to justify its decision while refusing to provide safety measures to a threatened student, we know it means the safety of USC receiving donations, not the safety of its students. 

We have demanded time and time again that this University, at the very least, humanize Arab, Palestinian, Muslim and other marginalized students by acknowledging our experiences. But rather than believing and supporting us, USC perpetuates and engages in Islamophobia and xenophobia by bowing to anonymous, violent harassment campaigns that aim to harm people’s lives. 

While we continue to fight for the rights of our siblings in Palestine, our emotions run high behind closed doors. We scream and cry and shake. We miss classes because of our anxiety and anger, all while this University continues to ignore us while uplifting spiteful individuals who belittle us. 

Our academic and extracurricular performances suffer, because USC’s leadership shows how little it cares for our safety and existence. This is not to say that the repression we face at USC is anywhere comparable to the atrocities suffered by the Palestinian people. 

Still, they undeniably exist in relation to each other: By submitting to the unfounded and hateful demands of Islamophobic and racist individuals, USC facilitates public consent for this genocide and the threat of those who oppose it — even as its students and faculty relentlessly express their disdain for the actions and decisions of the University regarding its lack of support for the Palestinian cause. 

Despite quickly condemning the Oct. 7 attacks, President Folt has refused to acknowledge the ongoing genocide in Palestine, widely recognized as such by the international community in accordance with international law. By doing so, the flawed values and priorities of the University become glaringly obvious. 

USC cares more to appease its donors and maintain its investments than to maintain any degree of a moral backbone. And now that Provost Andrew Guzman silenced one of USC’s own from speaking at one of the most significant events in a student’s academic career — a position that Tabassum, like all other past valedictorians, earned through four years of hard work in an extremely rigorous academic program — the University’s disturbing spinelessness is irrefutable and damaging. 

USC has done everything short of removing Middle Eastern, North African and pro-Palestinian students from campus in their continued validation of Islamophobic bullying and threats of violence against our community. 

We are not welcome here. 

We demand that the University recognize its grave error and allow Tabassum to give her speech at graduation, provide her with whatever safety measures she requests — as has been provided for former presidents and governors, royalty, artists, musicians, professional athletes and others — and publicly apologize to her for acquiescing to a campaign of intimidation and harassment. 

In solidarity, 

Trojans for Palestine

USC Muslim Student Union

USC Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation

The Trojan Left

USC Graduate Students for Palestine

National Lawyers Guild at USC Gould

Jewish Voice for Peace USC

Reimagine Public Safety USC

USC Native American Student Assembly

USC Community for Asian Solidarity & Empowerment

USC Gender and Sexuality Studies Undergraduate Council

USC Association for Computing Machinery

USC Student Sustainability Committee

USC Environmental Student Assembly

Graduate Student Worker Organizing Committee-USC

USC Troy Philippines

Asian American Journalists Association USC Chapter

USC Spanish Undergraduate Student Association

Blueprints for Pangaea USC Chapter

Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund USC Chapter

Wrongful Convictions Club USC

USC Gould Employment and Labor Law Student Association

SC Garden Club

USC Black Student Assembly

USC Nexus

USC Student Community of PhDs in Education

USC Asian Pacific American Student Assembly 

Emergency Medical Services of USC

USC Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment

USC Southern California Indo-Americans

Filipino Initiative for Global Hope and Transformation at USC

USC Transfer Student Assembly

USC Public Policy Undergraduates at Price

USC Descent Magazine

USC Liberty in North Korea

USC Kazan Taiko

USC Hong Kong Student Association

USC Hawai‘i Club

USC Pacific Islander Student Association

USC Chinese American Student Association

Pakistani Student Association at USC

Dear Asian Youth at USC

USC Nikkei Student Union

USC Asian Pacific Cinema Association

USC Latine Student Assembly

USC Asli Baat A Cappella

USC Middle Eastern North African Student Assembly

Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers at USC

USC Taiwanese American Organization

USC Vietnamese Student Association

Mobile Clinic at USC

USC Lebanese Club

Open Alpha USC

USC Clover

USC First Generation Student Assembly

AthenaHacks USC

Improving Dreams, Education, Access and Success at USC

USC Journal of Law and Society

Trojan Review

Trojan BioBusiness Group

USC American Institute of Architecture Students

With solidarity from:

USC Palestine Justice Faculty Group

Law Students for a Free Palestine

USC Alumni Association of Dubai

National Lawyers Guild at UCLA Law

Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA Law

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