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Adrienne Lawrence

Legal analyst, law professor & award-winning author

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Students learning brutal lesson on how police respond to protests

May 1

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Student protests against Israel’s war in Gaza have escalated in the United States and around the world as civilian death counts in both Gaza and the West Bank continue to climb. Estimates show Israeli forces killed at least 42,500 Palestinians since Oct. 7, 2023, and another two million survivors have been displaced from their homes. U.S. college protests largely agree on a common demand for their universities to divest from Israel and, where applicable, to sanction and boycott the Jewish state for what they say is an unfolding genocide.

Straight Arrow News contributor Adrienne Lawrence reviews the student protests at her own University of Southern California (USC). Lawrence examines the university’s decision to cancel commencement and graduation ceremonies and how university administrations, politicians, and law enforcement agencies are responding to the demonstrations.

May is finally here, and so is graduation season. Across the country, many college students have earned their degrees, and they’re going to be welcoming in the next chapter of their lives, whether it’s furthering their education or finally entering the workforce. While this moment should be a joyous one all around, for many young people out there, this moment is marked by lasting disappointment and ire as pro-Palestine protests sweep college campuses across the nation, and jarring arrests, attempts to silence peaceful voices. These students are getting a first-rate education on the complicity and depravity of their institutions of higher education. And this disturbing awakening will have a lasting effect as to how these young people engage with their educational institutions in the future.

In addition to following media coverage of the student protests, as an adjunct faculty member teaching media law at the University of Southern California, I have had an up close and personal look at at least one of these institutions, and they have failed to properly respond to student protests of Israel’s attack on Gaza. At USC, we watched the university select an accomplished Muslim student who minored in genocide studies to be valedictorian, only to cancel her graduation commencement speech, citing safety concerns, then cancel all the speakers, likely upon realizing that canceling the speech of Asna Tabassum alone wasn’t a good look, whether it was in the court of public opinion or the court of law.

The students, my students, saw this. No matter where they stood in terms of Israel or Palestine, they were angry, and rightly so. Did the school consider how its decision to silence Tabassum would impact Jewish students, that these students would be perceived as threatening or violent? That USC’s decision would fuel further antisemitism, playing into tropes about Jews controlling the world and silencing voices and so on?

May is finally here and so as graduation season, across the country, many college students have earned their degrees and they’re going to be welcoming in the next chapter of their lives, whether it’s furthering their education or finally entering the workforce. While this moment should be a joyous one all around. For many young people out there, this moment is marked by lasting disappointment and either, as Pro Palestine protests sweep college campuses across the nation, and jarring arrests, attempt to silence peaceful voices. These students are getting a first rate education on the complicity and depravity of their institutions of higher education. And this disturbing awakening will have a lasting effect as to how these young people engage with their educational institutions in the future. In addition to following media coverage of the student protests, as an adjunct faculty member teaching Media Law at the University of Southern California, I have had an up close and personal look at at least one of these institutions, and they have failed to properly respond to student protests of Israel’s attack on Gaza. at USC, we watched the university select an accomplished Muslim student who minored in genocide studies to be valedictorian, only to cancel her graduation commencement speech, citing safety concerns, then cancel all the speakers likely upon realizing that canceling the speech of asna Tabasum alone wasn’t a good look, whether it was in the court of public opinion, or the court of law. The students my students saw this, no matter where they stood in terms of Israel or Palestine. They were angry, and rightly so. Did the school consider how its decision to silence Tabasum would impact Jewish students that these students would be perceived as threatening or violent? That USCIS decision would fuel further anti semitism playing into tropes about Jews controlling the world and silencing voices and so on? Tabassum on her spot as valedictorian why give her the honor event silence her. USC has no idea what she had planned to say, to spend four years educating this young woman on genocide, recognize her for her knowledge, and then preemptively silence her over fear that she may actually share. That knowledge that you taught her is a hell of a thing. It also appears pretextual to cancel to awesome speech for purported safety reasons, especially without providing any evidence of actual or legitimate threats. As my students observed the school has safely hosted President Barack Obama and a litany of controversial speakers without safety issue. So how is it that a young Muslim woman who isn’t a public figure presents such a safety threat? Even giving USC leadership the benefit of the doubt here by assuming that these safety concerns are indeed legit? I can’t give them much for Mr. Mobility. What if it was Adrian Lawrence, who had worked hard and been designated valedictorian? And the Klan called saying that they were going to disrupt the graduation if I was allowed to speak with USC cancel my speech out of fear? What does it say of an elite institution that would quickly capitulate in the face of suppose it intimidation to me, it says that that institution does not stand for what it purports to stand for. And I may be fired for saying this, but may be acts of cowardice are what are showing here and USC, his legacy will be harmed, just like the harm that was brought by calling in the LAPD in their riot gear to arrest some 93 peaceful protesters last week. As many of my students have relayed to me USC has lost their respect. And I’m sure that many faculty, staff, alumni and prospective students feel the same way. I imagine that this disappointment will manifest for the school in the form of decreased gifts and donations, reduced Human Capital and Talent, and fewer intangible yet valuable resources for the school, particularly now that it has canceled its main graduation ceremony. In the wake of all the turmoil. Four years ago, a global pandemic robbed many high school students have a memorable graduation ceremony, something that marked their transition into higher education. Next week, many of those same students who are set to graduate at least at USC that is, will be robbed of such a memorable moment once again. But this time, it’ll be because those students or their peers are taking a stand against those who are enabling genocide in Palestine. While these students have the courage and conviction to stand up for what they believe in and what’s right, there, institutions of higher education seem to be clinging to nothing more than Craven power. The deafening dis enchantment of this moment is an education that these students didn’t expect but that they will remember for the rest of their lives.

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