Throughout Iran, calls of “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” or “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi” ring not only in the streets but in the halls of schools and universities. Instead of echoing these calls for “Woman, Life, Freedom,” Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow has remained silent in the face of student demands for an expression of solidarity. This is a serious dereliction of his duty and the duty of the Harvard community more broadly to shed light on the atrocities at Sharif University of Technology and express support for the past few weeks of civil resistance in Iran — in other words, to pursue justice and Veritas.
Iranian women are leading an intersectional movement for change that has been met with brutality and further oppression by the regime. Recently, Iranian armed forces raided Sharif University in Tehran, assaulting and arresting dozens of students and faculty members whose conditions and whereabouts remain unknown. Sharif University has captured greater media attention due to its distinguished status, but similar modes of repression are enacted across many schools in the country of over 80 million people.
These protests began following the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Jina (Mahsa) Amini while in the custody of the “morality police'' for what they deemed improper head-covering. Jina’s death served as the catalyst for the largest mobilization against the regime since 2009, when millions took to the streets to protest alleged election rigging. The civil demonstrations have been met with brutality and repression by the regime, including internet blackouts, mass arrests, and the killing of hundreds of people. As protestors continue to be silenced, the need for prominent members of the international community to amplify Iranian voices grows even more dire.
As members of the Harvard community from Iran or the Iranian diaspora, we write to mark the deafening silence on our campus. Students, the very souls of higher education institutions, are being targeted. These violations are closer to Harvard than many realize. There are numerous members of the Iranian community at Harvard — your neighbors, classmates, friends, and teachers. The University numbers former students of Sharif and other Iranian universities among its affiliates. Multiple Iranian Harvard affiliates wanted to join us in authoring this op-ed but could not put it to their name for fear of retribution by the regime, including losing their ability to travel to Iran.
As hurting but hopeful Iranians at Harvard, we need your voice to join in support of this fight for freedom. We in the Harvard community have an obligation to use our privilege and capacity to advocate for our fellow students and all Iranians struggling for justice.
One need not look further than Harvard’s motto, “Veritas,” to understand that this institution is premised on a commitment to the truth. We ask for your solidarity not simply because the victims are Iranian or affiliated with prestigious institutions of higher education but because they are students, just like us, seeking knowledge and truth. Academic institutions like ours must stand together at the forefront of the struggle for truth and intellectual integrity, and that cannot be interrupted by borders or nationalities. Several universities have already released statements in solidarity with Iranians. Harvard’s comparative silence is stark.
A statement from President Bacow would go a long way. This is exemplified by the case of Shervin Hajipour — an Iranian singer arrested for his song, “Baraye” (For), which has reached millions of views and is regarded by many as the anthem of this movement. After international outcry Hajipour was released on bail. Hajipour’s case remains the exception rather than the rule, however, as the Iranian regime continues to crack down on activists, many of whom we cannot honor with our attention because their names are unknown.
As we strive to speak out in support of students standing against injustice, intolerance, and brutality in Iran, we emphasize the need to aspire in the same measure to the liberation of populations suffering from oppression elsewhere. What is happening in Iran is an intersectional movement that concerns all of us — one part of a larger struggle against institutionalized oppression. We condemn the human rights atrocities of every state that perpetuates cycles of injustice towards communities of all kinds, including students and activists.
Recognizing state oppression globally, we also stand firm against reckless interventionist policies, like that of the 1953 U.S. coup of Iran’s democratically-elected leader, Mohammad Mossadegh. It is of utmost importance that we carefully listen to the needs of Iranians, avoiding further harm to those whom we need to empower through supportive action.
President Bacow, you have the opportunity to empower, but your silence as the leader of a world-renowned institution is complicity. This can still change. An official statement of support would go a long way as a meaningful expression of solidarity with your students and the people of Iran risking their lives for freedom.
It is not too late to say “Woman, Life, Freedom.”
Rameen A. Javadian is a first-year master’s student in Theological Studies at the Harvard Divinity School. Ciara S. Moezidis is a second-year master’s student in Theological Studies at the Harvard Divinity School.