Laura Ospina, Contributing Photographer

Members of the Yale community gathered on Friday to honor the life of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian who died while in the custody of morality police, as well as hundreds of civilians who have died in the days of ensuing unrest.

The Persian Students Association placed a portrait of Amini atop the Women’s Table beside bouquets of lilies. Some Iranian students at the vigil expressed frustration at their limited ability to support relatives half a world away.

“It feels like our hands are tied in many ways, and our actions are limited,” said Nader Granmayeh ’24, who is a former staff reporter for the News. “But we want to let them know that we support them and that there is an international community that is behind them in their fight for freedom.”

Amini was arrested in Tehran for wearing her headscarf too loosely, according to the police, and ultimately died in Iranian police custody on Sept. 16, 2022. Police say that she died of heart failure, but her family — and many Iranians who have protested in the month since her death — allege that law enforcement was responsible.

Protests have continued across the country in the days and weeks following her death, many of them led by women. The demonstrations have been met with bloody government crackdowns.

State television reported on Sept. 24 that at least 41 people had been killed. The Norway-based Iran Human Rights organization reported last week that the civilian death toll during the unrest has climbed to at least 201, including 23 minors. 

The Persian Students Association is currently drafting a statement of support to send to the Yale College Council and the University, Granmayeh said. He hopes that both the YCC and the University will “stand with the women of Iran” by approving and publishing the statement.

The University administration has yet to release a formal statement of solidarity.

“The silence is deafening,” said Susan Kashaf, an associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine. “Where is Yale? Why have they not made a statement when our peer institutions have?”

Some academic institutions — including Georgetown and the University of Connecticut, among others — have issued statements of support for Iranian protesters. 

Kashaf said that she has been scrolling through email newsletters from University administration, searching for the slightest mention of the situation in Iran. She said that she has found nothing. The apparent and conscious lack of effort to include her people in the conversation creates a “jarring isolation” for Kashaf. 

The University was not available for comment at time of publication.

Frustrated with the stagnancy and “limit on sympathy” that the University is currently exercising, Kashaf helped organize a small discussion late Thursday night for individuals at the Yale School of Medicine who shared her concerns and sentiment of urgency. 

She described the endeavor as “quiet, difficult and careful,” but an important first step. And though she understands that there are “great risks” if she were ever to return to Iran, she said that it was all worth it upon remembering that the women back in Iran “don’t have any choice to risk” in the first place. 

Anahita Rabiee, one of the attendees at both the Yale Medicine meeting and Friday’s vigil, wrote in a recent Facebook post: “i feel anger, at people around me who don’t care, or seem not to care. What part of children and teenagers being killed as they are fighting for their freedom does not merit support. Is it because they are iranian? So their lives don’t matter?”

Rabiee said that little has changed since she went to school in Iran. Checking social media only to see school girls complying with the same “gray dress code” that she once had to obey and seeing people being killed at the same university she once ate, chatted and studied at brings back memories that still feel very raw in her mind and body, she wrote.

She commended the Iranian girls that are writing a new chapter in the history books, noting that even for herself, every day is an ongoing battle to overcome fear and cultivate a sense of courage to finally “risk [her] life in front of bullets for what [she] stands.” 

A father of a student at Yale, who attended the vigil and asked to remain anonymous due to safety concerns, echoed Rabiee’s acknowledgment that the recent Iranian protests are both a continuation and divergence from history. 

“This has been a movement that has been in progress for 44 years, … but what’s extremely unique … is that this is the first movement in the 21st century [in Iran] mostly led by women,” he said. “What people need to know is to share the story. They need to support this movement not for political reasons and just for the sake of young men and women to be able to reclaim their rights that they’ve lost.” 

Yasaaf, who asked to be identified by her first name only, added that “this isn’t about protesting the hijab.” She explained that there is a misconception in the Western world that a woman wearing a hijab must always be oppressed. For some women, it’s a personal and religious choice, she said. 

In his words at the vigil, Granmayeh acknowledged that speaking about the protests can be at the risk of imprisonment or violence for both domestic and abroad Iranian women. Rabiee, along with other Iranian women living overseas, have chosen to take that risk. 

“You know, for the longest time, I’ve been scared of lighting a fire under the table, because the first thing that comes to mind would always be — what are the consequences? What will happen to my family?” Rabiee said. “But today, I have to start. I have to for the women who cannot be visible and for the women who cannot speak up.” 

Granmayeh said that Friday’s vigil is just the first step in supporting Iranian women. He encouraged Yalies to “stay informed” about the protests in Iran and continue to share information personally or on social media to spread awareness. 

If Yale “plays its part” as “just another university, another group” among countless others supporting the people of Iran, Granmayeh believes the movement may generate enough “international momentum” to sustain the push for change. 

Since 1983, all women have been legally obligated to wear hijab in Iranian public space, including foreigners visiting the country and non-Muslims.

Brian Zhang is Arts editor of the Yale Daily News and the third-year class president at Yale. Previously, he covered student life for the University desk. His writing can also be found in Insider Magazine, The Sacramento Bee, BrainPOP, New York Family and uInterview. Follow @briansnotebook on Instagram for more!
Laura Ospina covers Yale-New Haven relations and the Latine community for the City desk. Originally from North Carolina's Research Triangle, she is a sophomore in Branford College majoring in Political Science.