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11 members of Advisory Committee on Muslim Life resign after valedictorian speech cancelation

The Advisory Committee on Muslim Life (ACML) was supposed to finalize its report on recommendations to address Islamophobia, which they had been working on since last spring. After USC announced it would cancel Valedictorian Asna Tabassum’s commencement speech, the committee switched focus.

The committee was originally scheduled to meet to finish drafting a cover letter for their report. This changed into a meeting with Provost Andrew Guzman, according to Jihad Turk, who served on the committee before resigning on Friday.

In an hour-long meeting, according to Turk, committee members questioned Guzman about the specific safety concerns that led to the speech’s cancellation and whether the university had attempted to provide adequate security for commencement before finalizing the decision.

Eleven members resigned in protest on Friday, including all of the committee’s Muslim members. Resigning members of the committee informed the university of their decision through a direct email to the president, according to Turk. The 10 members other than Turk who resigned have not yet been identified by Annenberg Media.

“It was clear that there was no support for the student in terms of giving her a platform and investing in measures that would need to be taken to ensure that there was a secure commencement for her and everybody else,” said Turk, who received his doctorate from the Rossier School of Education last year.

The resigned members will release a full letter providing more information on their decision during a press conference on Thursday, according to an .

The university declined to comment until after ACML shares more details about the resignation.

“The provost indicated to [Tabassum] that they do have the capacity to create a secure environment, but they chose not to because it would send the wrong message,” Turk said. “We felt that rescinding the offer for her to speak is sending the wrong message.”

The committee asked what the exact safety concerns were but no details were provided on “any specific threats,” according to Turk. “They just said that there was a large volume of vitriolic responses.”

The ACML was convened by President Carol Folt in the spring of 2023 to combat Islamophobia on USC’s campus and better support Muslim students, faculty and staff, .

At its inception, the committee had 19 members. During the spring and summer of 2023, the committee held five meetings, developing “a set of actionable recommendations to support Muslim life on campus across disciplines and domains,” according to its website.

Fatema Bhaiji, a sophomore majoring in narrative studies, said she thinks that committees like the ACML are vital at USC but also supports the members’ decisions to resign.

“[The committee] is definitely necessary because it allows for students’ and faculty’s voices to be heard. It’s hard to go through five different layers of admin to get something done,” said Bhaiji, a member of the Muslim Student Union. “When there are faculty advocating for you, it’s much easier.”

Before resigning, Turk said that one committee member had a one-on-one conversation with President Folt, in which she indicated the decision on the valedictorian’s speech would not be changed. After this phone call, members of the committee decided to resign.

Turk questioned why an alternative method for the speech had not been provided, like a pre-recorded message, if the only concern is with security and not with the content of the valedictorian’s speech.

“[The committee] was extremely disappointed in what seems to be a complete lack of interest in showing support to the valedictorian in the face of criticism from those who wanted to silence her,” Turk said.