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Common, Kean University

April 2015
Kean University (Private college or university)
Union, New Jersey, USA

Identity of Speakers

  • Common
    Faculty/Staff
    Invited for non-academic lecture

    Lonnie Rashid Lynn, better known by his stage name Common, is an Oscar-award winning singer and actor.

Resources

Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
    University-sponsored lecture/address/panel
    Other
  • Incident Responses:
    University administration not protective of speech
  • Incident Status:
    No litigation
  • Incident Protested
  • Did not involve Speech Codes

Summary

In April 2015, Kean University announced that rapper Common was invited to speak at the university’s graduation. Within hours of the announcement, his invitation was rescinded after New Jersey police forces expressed outrage over the rapper’s controversial lyrics.

Common’s track, A Song for Assata, was at the center of the controversy. Its lyrics pay homage to Black Panther member Assata Shakur, who was convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper and sentenced to life in prison in 1977. New Jersey law enforcement immediately objected to the University’s choice of graduation speaker because of his sympathetic portrayal of Shakur. In a public statement released shortly before the university’s cancellation, New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association president Chris Burgos called the decision to invite Common “a slap in the face” to the state’s law enforcement. Soon after, Kean University deleted their tweet broadcasting Common’s invitation and announced that they were pursuing other speaker options. Through his representatives, the rapper declined to comment on the decision.