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Two Speakers Boycott USC Graduation After Pro-Palestinian Protesters Arrested

Two famous writers who were scheduled to speak at a University of Southern California graduation ceremony, which was streamed online, announced they would not attend, accusing the school of having seriously mishandled the student protests against the war in Gaza that have rocked his campus in recent weeks.

The university canceled its “main stage” commencement ceremony on Thursday, citing concerns about the safety of the more than 65,000 people expected to flood the campus on May 10. The cancellation of the ceremony came less than two weeks after the controversial decision to ban Asna Tabassum, her pro-Palestinian valedictorian, from speaking at the event.

Instead, the school announced earlier this week that it would split graduation into satellite ceremonies for its various colleges.

C Pam Zhang, award-winning novelist, and Safiya Noble, professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, was tapped to deliver commencement speeches to graduates of the USC Rossier School of Education. But Zhang and Noble officially withdrew on Sunday, posting a letter they also sent to university officials on Literary Hub.

“Speaking out at USC at this time would betray not only our own values, but also those of USC,” they said.

The two men said they were “dismayed” that the school administration had “refused to meet in good faith” with the student protesters; calling on Los Angeles police to arrest 93 pro-Palestinian protesters for failing to disperse this week; and having “censored” Tabassum with “little explanation or transparency”.

Zhang and Noble said these actions “represent a violent and targeted refusal to allow true diversity of expression to flourish on campus,” saying it was “deeply regrettable” that USC had “transformed the moment to celebrate its entire student body in an opportunity to punish.” a small group. »

By publicly sharing their letter, they said, they hoped to compel school officials to “address our concerns and meet in good faith with student protesters.” They called on other commencement speakers still attending the more than three dozen satellite ceremonies planned for next month to join them in their boycott.

“If our conditions were met, we would consider delivering our commencement speeches as scheduled, to celebrate deserving graduates and their families,” they said, noting that their withdrawal was “in no way a condemnation of the promotion of USC, which deserves to be celebrated”, nor of the faculty, staff, students and administrators separate from the university leadership.

Zhang’s first novel, 2020s How much of these hills contains gold, earned him a place on the Booker Prize longlist. She was supposed to speak at the school of education’s doctoral graduation ceremony on May 8, according to the Los Angeles Times. Noble, co-founder and co-director of the Center for Critical Internet Inquiry at UCLA, was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2021. She was scheduled to speak at the school’s master’s ceremony on May 10, the Times reported.

Tabassum, a biomedical engineering student who wears a hijab and is of Muslim and South Asian descent, was informed that she could no longer speak at USC’s April 15 commencement. University leaders announced the decision to students and staff in an email after pro-Israel groups accused her of anti-Semitism over a link on her Instagram page. Provost Andrew T. Guzman said “substantial” but unspecified risks “related to security and early disruption” led to the decision, denying that it had anything to do with a restriction of freedom of speech.

“I am both shocked by this decision and deeply disappointed that the University is succumbing to a hate campaign designed to silence my voice,” Tabassum said in a statement at the time. “I am not surprised by those who try to spread hatred. I’m surprised that my own university – my home for four years – has abandoned me.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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