CMU Hosts Experts on Iranian Protests
By Jennifer Monahan
Members of the Carnegie Mellon University community gathered on November 17, 2022, for a panel discussion on the fight against gender apartheid and clerical despotism in Iran. Titled “Women. Life. Freedom,” the event was organized by CMU’s Iranian Student Association and featured student speakers as well as prominent Iranian-American scholars from both CMU and the University of Virginia.
Student organizers said the event emerged through discussions with CMU President Farnam Jahanian, Gina Casalegno, dean of students and vice president for Student Affairs, and other university leaders. CMU administrators have been meeting with students to lend their support in the wake of protests that followed the September 16th death of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman arrested by the morality police for not wearing her hijab correctly.
"As these painful events unfold, we're reminded that the desire for freedom and thirst for democracy are not confined or owned by a single culture," said Jahanian. "It is a universal hope shared by all of humanity."
Dr. Farzaneh Milani, Raymond J. Nelson Professor of Iranian literature and gender studies at the University of Virginia, said that the current protests are different than those of the past for several reasons, in particular because the movement is more desegregated and women-led. Though Milani was careful to point out that Iranian women have played an active role in protests since the 1800s, she said demonstrations of the last two months mark the first time she has seen women fully integrated with men on the streets of Iran, singing, holding hands, supporting each other and protesting together.
"The courage the young people bring is awe-inspiring," said Dr. Mona Kasra, associate professor in digital media design at the University of Virginia, who grew up in Tehran. “It’s hard to defy these systems of terror." Kasra said that even small acts of resistance such as reading a confiscated book, wearing lipstick or making underground music could result in being jailed, flogged and publicly humiliated by the morality police and revolutionary guards.
Dr. Ali Shourideh, associate professor of economics in the Tepper School of Business, offered an account of the recent historical and economic influences that have led to the current situation in Iran. He, too, said he was inspired by the young protesters.
"I had given up on Iran,” said Shourideh. "The Islamic Republic government has always been brutal, but in its initial years it was popular and in later years there has never been a real push for change. Now young people are protesting and giving us hope for change."
"I think every Iranian can really relate to those feelings of conflict where you're hopeful … for change and for a better future," said Shourideh. "But then you're also deeply sad and worried for your family, for people you know, for the lives that are being lost."
The student moderator said the most common question from attendees focused on how people in the local community could support Iranian protestors. Panelists offered a range of recommendations.
Milani suggested that showing up and listening was important. Writing to government leaders, making art about the protests and letting others know what is happening in Iran matters, she said.
"Let’s not normalize violence and killing," said Kasra. "People are in prisons in Iran now for their ethnicity, for being part of the LGBTQ community. Let’s force the media to talk about what is happening there."
Shourideh urged supporters to push the U.S. government for clarity about its policy in Iran, noting that U.S. citizens’ apathy has allowed that policy to be set behind closed doors.
The event concluded with one of the student organizers reciting “Bani Adam,” a poem from “The Golestan” by Persian poet Sa’adi, in both Farsi and English, followed by a reception. The event was co-sponsored by the Iranian Student Organization, Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy and the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion.