USC cancels graduation ceremony amid Gaza protests

Students march during a pro-Palestine protest at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles on Wednesday. USC on Thursday announced it has canceled its main graduation ceremony amid heightened safety concerns and a wave of protests on college campuses across the United States. Photo by Caroline Brehman/EPA-EFE

April 25 (UPI) -- The University of Southern California on Thursday canceled its main graduation ceremony amid pro-Palestinian protests on campus.

USC in a commencement update said the main ceremony scheduled for May 10 was now canceled, citing new safety measures on processing people who come to campus.

"With the new safety measures in place this year, the time needed to process the large number of guests coming to campus will increase substantially," USC wrote in a statement. "As a result, we will not be able to host the main stage ceremony that traditionally brings 65,000 students, families and friends to our campus all at the same time and during a short window from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m."

The new safety measures also include issuing tickets for all commencement events and only allowing access onto campus through specific ports of entry, according to USC.

School officials said they plan to post updated commencement plans on the graduation website by Tuesday.

Doctoral hooding ceremonies, special celebrations and departmental activities and receptions will continue, USC said.

The decision to cancel the main stage ceremony follows a controversial few weeks for USC. The campus shut down Wednesday after pro-Palestine protesters, some students and some not, clashed with police during a demonstration.

The university last week said it canceled valedictorian Asna Tabassum's graduation speech, also citing safety concerns.

Tabassum, who described herself as a first-generation South Asian Muslim student, drew fire from the campus group Trojans for Israel for a link on her Instagram account that called for "one Palestinian state" through "Palestinian liberation and the complete abolishment of the state of Israel."

The group called for the post to be "denounced as anti-Semitic bigotry."

USC Provost Andrew Guzman has said the discussion about Tabassum's selection as valedictorian had "taken on an alarming tenor."

"The intensity of feelings, fueled by both social media and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, has grown to include many voices outside of USC and has escalated to the point of creating a substantial risk relating to security and disruption at commencement," Guzman said.

Tabassum said she was "shocked" and "profoundly disappointed" by the university's decision to cancel her and argued the university failed to to explain what type of security threats she should be concerned about.

"Because I am not being provided any increased safety to be able to speak at commencement, there remain serious doubts whether USC's decision to revoke my invitation to speak is made solely on the basis of safety," she said.

USC then announced it was cancelling all outside speakers for the commencement after Tabassum's dismissal.

Pro-Palestine protest encampments have sprung up on at least 30 college campuses across the United States, including University of Texas Austin, Harvard, Brown, University of Michigan, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt.