After the death of Zhina Amini and the resulting mass protests in Iran, Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) group leaders Sahar Dabirian PZ ’24, Tania Azhang PZ ’25 and Noura Tagdiri PZ ’25 decided to organize an event where Iranians could share their stories and bring understanding to non-Iranians.
Stand with Iran, an event open to students throughout the Claremont Colleges, took place on Sunday at 3 p.m. at Pitzer’s Grove House. At the event, five speakers — the event leaders and two guest speakers, Maya Mesriani SC ’25 and Nialla Akhavan PZ ’23— talked to a little over a dozen students about their experiences as Iranian-Americans and how the recent protests in Iran have affected them.
The protests, which broke out a little over a month ago, are in response to the murder of Zhina Amini, who was brutally beaten and murdered by the Iranian police after being arrested for not properly wearing her hijab.
In Azhang’s speech, she talked about the guilt she felt for the rights she is able to exercise for which her fellow Iranians are forced to fight.
“The fact that we are gathered here today to share our thoughts is a privilege, although it shouldn’t be,” Azhang said. “It should be a right for free for all to exercise, but it isn’t. Students in Iran, from elementary school to the university, are protesting the tyrannical Islamic Republic and they are dying for it. I am reminded that the liberty I exercise every day is what Iranian people are paying with blood.”
“We can’t stop sharing the footage of the protesters or the news headlines. We need to elevate Iranian voices. We owe Iranians the responsibility to be their voice when they are forced into silence. They aren’t calling for pity. They don’t want our tears. The people of Iran want us to answer their battle cry, and we will answer them.”
Instead of simply feeling sad about the situation in Iran, though, Azhang said that her job, along with others, is to spread the stories of these Iranian people who cannot speak for themselves.
“We can’t stop sharing the footage of the protesters or the news headlines,” Azhang said. “We need to elevate Iranian voices. We owe Iranians the responsibility to be their voice when they are forced into silence. They aren’t calling for pity. They don’t want our tears. The people of Iran want us to answer their battle cry, and we will answer them.”
When Tagdiri spoke, she shared a speech that her mother, who fled from Iran as a child, wrote to express her feelings about the protests in Iran, which brought her great pride.
“For over 40 years, we watched Iran from afar become more and more foreign,” Tagdiri said, reading her mother’s words. “As years went by, I felt I could no longer identify myself with the country this regime has created — that is, until recently. The youth in Iran, the new generation that never knew of a better regime [and] have been oppressed since the time they were born, are braving it out in protest of this regime and becoming the agents of change. These youth are brilliant, hopeful, resilient and strong. These youth are young women risking getting killed, yet daring to say enough is enough.”
Dabirian, who serves as SWANA’s president, felt that the event was a great way for both Iranian and Middle Eastern students to unite for a common cause.
“I feel like there are very few opportunities and spaces where we can all come together,” Dabirian said before the event. “There are very few of us [at the 5Cs], and especially with the events currently taking place in Iran, it can be very difficult, especially if you don’t see yourself represented in the school population, and [it’s important] just to have space for the individuals that identify with you and can relate to how you’re feeling.”
She also hoped that the event would encourage more students to join SWANA, which is the only affinity group at the Claremont Colleges that specifically centers around Middle Eastern-identifying students.
Tagdiri hoped that the event could give Iranian students an opportunity to both inform non-Iranians about the scope of the protests and give Iranian students an outlet to share their experiences and opinions with others.
“Specifically with these events, a lot of people don’t know how much it’s impacting Iranian Americans, all the way here,” Tagdiri said prior to the event. “A lot of people don’t know that an Iranian student sitting in their class is actually dealing with so much more than they anticipated. Maybe they don’t know if their family is okay, or maybe they’re just very, very stressed about protests in general, so this [event] is just a solidarity space to give Iranians the opportunity to have a voice.”
For the event to become a reality, Tagdiri, Dabirian and Azhang had to get approval from the Pitzer Identity Board, host meetings to hash out the details for the event and advertise for the event. This advertising took the form of posters that were put up around the Claremont Colleges, announcements through professors and an announcement through Student Talk, a Pitzer communication platform for publicizing events.
However, according to Tagdiri, SWANA’s goal was not centered around getting a large turn-out, but instead on attracting people with an open mind.
“We’re just hoping that people that really have a willingness to learn and understand attend and walk away a lot more enlightened,” Tagdiri said.
Tagdiri and Dabirian both wanted the event to specifically inform its attendees about the nuances of these protests, which are in response to injustices that don’t solely center around the hijab.
“The US media tends to frame these protests just in terms of women protesting, purely the hijab, but I’m hoping that this event will bring light to the fact that these women and these people in Iran are protesting just the regime in general and all of the inequalities and oppressions brought up by and inflicted by the regime, and then for people to learn and understand that and use that frame of view when reading about the Middle East and about Iran,” Tagdiri said.
Further, Dabirian hopes that the event spoke to non-Iranians and taught them about a topic that they would otherwise feel disconnected from.
“We do encourage students of all backgrounds to come just to be a part of this discussion, to not only educate and inform, but also include them in what is our perspective and what is our experience so that when people are talking about international issues such as this, it’s not something completely far removed,” Dabirian said. “It’s something that affects a lot of people in their lives as well.”
Editor’s note: Tania Azhang is an Arts and Culture writer for TSL.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Sahar Dabirian PZ ’24 as “Davirian.” It has been updated to reflect the correct spelling. TSL regrets this error.