As of Wednesday Jan. 25, 50 Emory University faculty, staff and students have signed an open letter to Emory and University President Gregory Fenves expressing concern for the political distress in Iran regarding women’s rights. Emory School of Medicine faculty initially released the letter on Nov. 30, 2022, to spread awareness of political distress in Iran while also encouraging Fenves and the University to condemn the violence in Iran.

Eight weeks later, Fenves has not responded, leaving advocates on campus still pushing for signatures. 

The letter addresses the Iranian security forces’ violent attacks against peaceful protests following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman. Amini died on Sept. 16, 2022, three days after being arrested for allegedly wearing her hijab loosely, which did not abide by the state-enforced dress code. As of Jan. 25, 19,571 protesters have been arrested, and 527 have died after government intervention, according to Iran’s Human Rights Activists News Agency.

Assistant Professor of Medicine Arash Harzand (14MR, 18FM) helped coordinate the initiative to release the letter along with his colleague, cardiologist Maziar Zafari. 

“The ongoing attacks against peaceful demonstrators in Iran, especially against students and faculty at Iran’s institutions of higher learning, should send alarm bells across the entire Emory community,” Harzand wrote in an email to the Wheel. 

Demonstrators protest the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran, Iran. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Fighting for human rights is “as much a part of Emory’s DNA as is its academic mission,” Harzand added.

“Many academic institutions responded publicly to take a stand against racism and stand in solidarity with those facing racial injustice, yet very few can claim to come anywhere close to the number of Emory leaders who independently spoke out on the record,” Harzand wrote. 

Harzand added that he was inspired to start the letter because he wanted to encourage Emory leadership to stand up against the “injustices of a brutal regime,” noting that the University has responded to similar events in the past, including the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“Our hope is that Emory will take its place as an academic leader in the civil rights arena and encourage other institutions to call out these heinous actions taking place,” Harzand wrote. 

While Fenves has not issued a statement, Rollins School of Public Health Dean M. Daniele Fallin was the first senior academic leader at Emory to make a statement on Iran in a Nov. 29, 2022 letter to the Rollins community. She expressed her empathy for those affected and noted that the violence and censorship in Iran “are antithetical to public health.”

“Please know you have my empathy and support in this truly difficult time,” Fallin wrote. “I am hoping all of us will approach each other with kindness and grace, knowing there are members of our community suffering in multiple ways. We are united in our passion for public health, human rights, and women’s rights.”

Other academic institutions like Amherst College (Mass.) and Yale University (Conn.) — both of which were referenced in the letter — have already released statements about the political strife in Iran. 

Amherst President Michael Elliott, who previously served as the dean of Emory College of Arts and Sciences, released a statement on Oct. 12, 2022, addressing Amherst students, faculty and staff. 

“At Amherst, we prize free, open inquiry, including dissent. Repression and violence against peaceful protestors run deeply counter to our values,” Elliott wrote.

Amherst held a community conversation following Amini’s death on Oct. 21, 2022, encouraging students to learn more about the ongoing events in Iran. Elliott also expressed his personal thoughts on the violence in the letter.

“As a college president, I am especially disturbed by — and condemn — the attacks on Iranian universities such as the Sharif University of Technology, an institution that has a proud history of advancing scientific knowledge, as well as the closing of all schools in Iranian Kurdistan and the widespread arrest of Iranian schoolchildren, especially schoolgirls, by Iranian security forces,” Elliott wrote.

Protesters gather in Heidelberg, Germany in support of Iranian women’s rights. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Yale President Peter Salovey also wrote a letter to students on Nov. 15, 2022, saying he was “profoundly disturbed” by the events unfolding in Iran. 

“I grieve for Ms. Mahsa Amini and the other individuals whose lives have been cut short,” Salovey wrote. “I stand with all those who are courageously seeking to protect women’s rights and human rights.”

Students at Yale organized a vigil on Oct. 21 to honor Amini and also raise awareness of women’s rights issues in Iran. 

Co-President of the Persian Cultural Association Katherine Khayami (25C), who signed the letter and has encouraged others to do the same, is an outspoken advocate against the violence in Iran. 

“My wish is that newspapers and Emory’s social accounts illustrate the reality of Iran,” Khayami wrote in an email to the Wheel. “It is a precarious situation as multiple regions are in a situation of instability.”

Khayami also said she has not heard much discussion about Iran’s current situation at Emory. 

“The objective of the letter is to raise awareness and acknowledgment by the board of the current revolution in Iran,” Khayami wrote. “As there is a very small Iranian community, there hasn’t been much acknowledgment.” 

Assistant Vice President of University Communications and Marketing Laura Diamond noted the importance of spreading awareness of the situation in an email to the Wheel. 

“We appreciate members of our community sharing their concerns about the ongoing crisis in Iran,” Diamond wrote. “We offer empathy and support to all those affected by this situation.” 

Diamond also provided a list of resources that Emory offers through the Counseling and Psychological Services, the Faculty Staff Assistance Program and the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life.

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Amelia Dasari (she/her) (26C) is from Sharon, Massachusetts, majoring in neuroscience and behavioral biology and minoring in music. Outside of the Wheel, she is an undergraduate researcher at the Pallas Lab and is involved with Volunteer Emory, AWIS, Grey Matters and Best Buddies. In her free time Amelia enjoys playing the violin, exploring coffee shops and reading mysteries (especially Agatha Christie).