The Tufts community is home to a wide range of different cultural and ethnic clubs on campus, including the Tufts Persian Student Association. For junior and PSA co-president Sabrina Rangwani, the club has been an important part of her adjustment to Tufts. Growing up with a large Iranian community in Houston while attending an international school, life at Tufts was Rangwani’s first time being surrounded by large groups of Americans.
“I feel like being in this club has given me people with similar experiences, who either moved to the U.S. in middle school or high school or grew up in similar situations as me. I was born in the U.S., but I was never really around other American people,” Rangwani said. “It’s been nice to have people who can identify in that same way and who … also want to go try a new Iranian restaurant or who want to celebrate holidays with me. It’s really validating … to have that kind of community.”
After the lifting of pandemic-related restrictions, the PSA has seen growth in both the organization’s activities and group size overall.
“We went from … not really being allowed to have events but also there not being any initiative to plan events [my freshman year], to this year, to having multiple events and having at least like two times more people than we originally had,” Rangwani said. “I don’t have the exact numbers, but we have a much more active involvement this year than we’ve ever had.”
Rangwani said that the club has been able to partake in a range of cultural, social and political activities, including movie screenings, holiday celebrations, mixers with other Iranian groups at Boston schools and letter writing campaigns.
“We still want to be able to maintain parts of our culture that we really enjoy while also fighting against the oppressive regime,” Rangwani said. “For most of us, we feel like there’s a duty as Iranian Americans to speak out against this because we are in a position of privilege to do so, [and] people in Iran aren’t able to speak out against the regime.”
Due to the protests and social upheaval taking place in Iran, Tufts PSA club membership has taken on a whole new purpose for some members, including one student going by the pseudonym Aubrey, who has increased their club involvement in light of the events in Iran.
“I reached out to the current president this year when the revolution started happening because it’s hard to find a sense of community at Tufts of people who understand what it feels like [when] the country that you come from is going up in flames,” Aubrey said.
In December 2022, the PSA organized a march for solidarity in response to the events in Iran that started at the Mayer Campus Center and ended at Gifford House, the dedicated residence of University President Anthony Monaco. The participants had posters and chanted the global protest slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom.” Aubrey and a few others spoke about what has been happening in Iran and their Iranian American identity.
“I just gave a reflection on what it meant to be an Iranian American to me and how it’s not that easy growing up in the States and having an ambiguous complexion and how that’s impacted me,” Aubrey said. “I love my Iranian identity, but also, it has made it harder to live here. … It sometimes feels like I can’t have a home in Iran as well because of what’s happening there.”
Protests in Iran erupted in response to the murder of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, and Aubrey said that the movement has demonstrated the strength of the Iranian women.
“Iranian women can fight for themselves and they can speak up for themselves, and that’s exactly what they’re doing, but it’s just not being talked about,” Aubrey said. “We need to shed light on the courage and bravery of them and ask our school to speak out as well because the only thing that the U.S. can do to help is to stop interfering and stop working with a government that hurts its people, and we need … institutions with strong names like Tufts to speak out against that.”
Both Aubrey and Rangwani hope that members of the Tufts community will help circulate information about the events in Iran, which is especially important because the Iranian government has been censoring information relating to the protests. The PSA Instagram account (@tuftspsa) also has a linktree page that includes information relating to the events in Iran, petitions and email templates for writing to local leadership.
“The best way to counteract censorship is to educate yourself and speak out against it,” Rangwani said. “Even re-sharing what we post on Instagram might reach someone who had no idea about the situation before that, and knowledge is power in this situation.”
So far, Tufts has not issued an official statement about Iran. PSA Events Coordinator Saya Ameli Hajebi, a junior, said that the club has been calling on the Tufts administration to make a public statement of solidarity.
“The reason why we’ve been pushing for public statements of solidarity with the women in Iran is that it has been incredibly difficult for people in the country to actually get information out about what’s been going on due to the sanctions and due to the internet restrictions … by the government in Iran,” Ameli Hajebi said. “They’ve been working really hard to censor everything that’s been going on and downplay the numbers of how many protesters have been out, so these public statements kind of shed more light and much needed attention onto the issue.”
Due to all of their on-campus activism efforts, the PSA has been regularly meeting with Tufts Provost and Senior Vice President ad interim Caroline Genco. Ameli Hajebi said that they are organizing an upcoming lecture series to educate the Tufts community about the events in Iran.
“I think that, overall, accurate information and education about the Middle East is difficult to come by, and then with the addition of these internet restrictions placed on Iranians, it’s just hard for translated information specifically to leave the country,” Ameli Hajebi said. “It’s really helpful that the provost’s office has been collaborating with us in organizing and funding this lecture series. I think it’s going to make a really big difference on Tufts’ campus with being able to give accurate information from leaders in the community to students about what’s been going on.”
Ameli Hajebi feels it is important to stand in solidarity with the women in Iran, and she also sees the events in Iran as an opportunity for women across the globe to come together and respond to the injustices being experienced for women worldwide.
“Because of the overturn of Roe v. Wade here, it kind of feels like there’s internationally an attack on women’s rights, and it is of the utmost importance to be supporting this international woman-led resistance effort in other parts of the world as well,” Ameli Hajebi said. “Having freedom in Iran could have ripple effects across other countries as well. For example, women in Afghanistan have been standing up for the right to have an education as a result of the resistance movement going on in Iran. This is a really wonderful opportunity for women to build solidarity … and come together in a movement to increase equality overall in the world.”