Oceans away from Iran, Stony Brook students are doing their part on campus to raise awareness of the protests happening worldwide following the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022.
Mahsa Amini was a 22-year-old woman who died after three days of being detained by police for reportedly not following the country’s dress code in September 2022. Protestors, especially women, are now demanding the end of the mandatory hijab law. The Guidance Patrol, or “morality police,” has the authority to arrest or fine individuals violating the Islamic Republic’s dress code.
Stony Brook University’s Iranian student population has banded together to support the movement and spread the protesters’ message.
“We hear their voice, and we are their voice here,” said an Iranian Ph.D. student who has asked to remain anonymous out of safety concerns.
The Iranian Graduate Student Association has played an active role in Stony Brook University’s advocacy for Iran since the start of the uprisings. The association’s main goal is to raise awareness and show support for the people of Iran.
Stony Brook joined over 200 college campuses around the world that have participated in demonstrations to protest the actions of the Islamic Republic. On Nov. 30, 2022, the Iranian Graduate Student Organization held a demonstration in the Student Union.
Members of the Iranian Student Association participated in the movement by cutting off some of their own hair at the demonstration. Hair-cutting has become a prevalent act of protest as a way to challenge the standards set by the Islamic Republic.
“It’s a symbol of feminism,” said Zavosh Mottadesh, a Ph.D. student in computer science and president of the Iranian Graduate Student Association.
Attendees also dipped their hands in red paint and pressed them on a banner to symbolize the loss and bloodshed of Iranian protesters.
As described by the unnamed Ph.D. student, a key component of protests is to encourage Americans to “raise awareness [and] talk about this … so that more people know what’s happening.”
Members of the Iranian Graduate Student Association informed audiences of the killing of innocent Iranians and played videos that displayed the international protests in solidarity.
Students also sang Iranian protest music at the event. The motifs of these songs were female empowerment and resilience.
“We are trying to spread the word internationally,” Mottadesh said.
Over 500 protesters have been killed in Iran since September 2022. Over 19,600 people have been detained.
“Not only do I hope, but I believe and want conditions in Iran to get better,” Mahan Agha-Zahedi, a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering, said. “The only way for that to happen is to overthrow the government. I doubt that the government officials will resign.”
Iranians’ relationship with their government also became a topic of discussion during the World Cup in November and December 2022.
The Iranian soccer team’s captain, Ehsan Hajsafi, publicly supported protestors and expressed alignment with the Iranian people over the government.
“We have to accept that the situation in our country is not good and that our people are not happy, they are discontent,” Hajsafi said at a press conference. “We are here, but it does not mean we should not be their voice or that we should not respect them. Whatever we have is theirs.”
Although Stony Brook students may agree with Hajsafi’s statement, they have conflicted opinions about the Iranian soccer team’s overall involvement in the competition.
“In Iran, sport is very much involved with politics, and the government has a significant control over sport,” Mottadesh said. “Iranian people within and outside of Iran requested FIFA to ban the Iranian national soccer team from the World Cup, but FIFA didn’t care.”
When Iran’s team faced Wales, they did not sing their national anthem in an act of protest, which resulted in negative attention from the Iranian government. But, the sentiment remains that no specific effort can definitively end the horrifying circumstances in Iran.
“Nobody can predict anything, but I believe it’s going to be better someday either in this generation or the next,” Mottadesh said. “Unfortunately, nobody knows when conditions in Iran will get better.”
More recently, President Raisi publicly blamed all of the unrest in Iran on Western influence during a televised speech on Feb. 11. While this speech was being streamed online, a hacker group interrupted for several seconds before the regular feed was restored.
A masked woman appeared on screen. With an altered voice, she called for the continuation of protests against the Islamic Republic.
But the unknown does not stop the Iranian Graduate Student Association from advocating for the people in Iran. The devastation arising from death and injustice is still felt, and it pushes students to continue showing their support.
“I feel like I’m losing a friend every day,” the anonymous student said. ”I’m mourning people I don’t even know every day.”