Courtesy of Laya Jalilian Khave

Following weeks of unrest in Iran, University President Peter Salovey has condemned the current state violence in the country — making Yale the first Ivy League university to issue a formal statement of support in support of Iranian protesters.

The statement, published on Nov. 9, was issued in response to a letter signed by nearly 500 Yale faculty members asking that the University officially denounce the state violence directed against Iranian civilians. The faculty letter to Salovey spotlights attacks on academic institutions and hospitals across Iran and calls for an end to the murder, torture and imprisonment of Iranian civilians. 

In the past few years, Iranians have found themselves at the crossroads of various socioeconomic, health and human rights crises, only to have their protests — many peaceful — subjugated to brutal crackdowns from the government.  On Nov. 14, 2022, the Iranian government issued the first official death sentence associated with recent protests following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody. Amini was arrested by Iran’s religious morality police for allegedly not wearing her hijab in accordance with the standards outlined by the Iranian government. 

“I have been following the news in Iran closely, and I am profoundly disturbed by what I am seeing,” Salovey wrote in his statement. “I grieve for Ms. Mahsa Amini and the other individuals whose lives have been cut short. I stand with all those who are courageously seeking to protect women’s rights and human rights.”

Salovey continued by emphasizing the University’s focus on supporting Iranian University, mentioning that the Office of International Students and Scholars is in touch with these students and scholars. He will soon travel to Washington D.C., where he will speak with government leaders.

Commending the courage of the protesters in Iran, the faculty letter draws attention to “those among our Yale family who may be directly impacted by these demonstrations, as well as our numerous Iranian colleagues experiencing the loss and pain associated with the violent response by the state.”

 The faculty letter was submitted to Salovey on Oct. 30 by Travis Zadeh, associate professor of religious studies and director of the Yale Program in Iranian Studies, on behalf of a group of Iranian and Iranian-American faculty. Seven people in total authored the letter.

“The Iranian government is specifically targeting academic institutions,” Zadeh told the News. “The violence directed toward students, children, professors, and doctors shocks the conscience. As a global leader, Yale’s message of solidarity is profoundly meaningful.”

Yale students and faculty have held events, discussions, teach-ins and vigils to raise awareness of current human rights violations being committed toward Iranian civilians. Faculty and students across the University have released statements, including the Council of Middle Eastern Studies, the Program in Iranian Studies, the School of Medicine and the Persian Students Association.

At first, student organizer Nader Granmayeh ’24 said he was not convinced that words were enough. But as the movement went on, Granmayeh said, he came to realize the importance of Yale’s position in publicly condemning such violations in a way that merits serious attention from the international community. Granmayeh is a former staff reporter for the News. 

“It signals to people both abroad, both in the U.S. and especially people in Iran, that this … is not just a fringe movement that a couple of people are starting,” Granmayeh said. “It’s not that it doesn’t have support. In fact, it has the support of one of the most famous and oldest and premier educational institutions in the United States. And to me, at least, that feels very powerful.”

For associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine Susan Kashaf, who co-authored the faculty letter, Salovey’s words are a beacon of “hope.” She acknowledged that the road to providing Iranian Americans and homeland Iranians the security, confidence and emotional support they need is still arduous and long, but that this statement is a strong first administrative step. 

“Words really do matter,” Kashaf said. “The University is saying that it is committed to supporting us — and that gives us hope. It truly is encouraging.”

Kashaf said there were moments when she wondered if the late nights spent advocating were worth it, but it is seeing the very human reaction to conflict in Iran and growing sense of community around the resistance cause that keeps her going. Earlier today, she had been in conversation with a student in tears who told her that the University’s solidarity has already started playing a role in alleviating “loneliness” and giving “a voice to the voiceless.”

Moving forward, Kashaf and her colleagues will be hosting regular Wednesday meetings to discuss what more can be done — on both the administrative and faculty ends. In addition to fuelling the existing conversations at Yale and taking it to greater stages outside of the University, she also emphasized that one of her greatest priorities will be ensuring social, workplace and personal wellbeing for all. These meetings will therefore also function as a support space. 

“A next action item is raising [this] awareness among different universities across the country,” said Anahita Rabiee, a clinical fellow at the Yale School of Medicine, noting the possibility of hosting bigger solidarity events in collaboration with other academic institutions. 

Kashaf echoed that the Ivy League overall has stagnated a little in its response and solidarity with Iranian protesters, in comparison to other colleges in the country. She hopes that Salovey’s words will push other colleges to follow suit in creating a platform for more stories to be shared. 

Rabiee and Kashaf expressed immense pride for students who have been speaking out against the crackdowns in Iran on protesters, thanking them for their participation and initiative. 

“Community is the most important thing right now,” Kashaf said. “We can onlydo this together.”

Iranian security forces have killed at least 326 people since the protests following Amini’s death began. 

William Porayouw covered Woodbridge Hall for the News and previously reported on international strategy at Yale. Originally from Redlands, California, he is an economics and global affairs major in Davenport College.
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!