USC students respond to ongoing protests in Iran

Death of Mahsa Amini triggers reactions from students on campus sparking support for women’s rights in Iran.

Candles burn at the memorial of Mahsa Amini in Hahn Plaza on Sept. 23, 2022

Candles glistened in Hahn Plaza last week as students placed roses under portraits of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman who was arrested and beaten for allegedly neglecting hijab [headscarf] covering laws in Iran. She died three days later.

Outrage sparked an upsurge of national protests in Iran and vigils around the world. USC’s Persian Academic and Cultural Student Association (PACSA) organized two vigils commemorating Amini where an Iranian American student accompanied on piano.

Not only did the event bring awareness to the ongoing protests in Iran, but also it brought the USC community together in support of the Iranian diaspora on campus. Maideh Orangi, a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law was moved by the event.

“The vigil was very meaningful,” Orangi said. She is an Iranian American who practices wearing the hijab and feels that it should be one’s choice, not compulsory.

Prior to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, women had the choice to wear a hijab. But since then, women have lost many of their rights, including the right to travel, work certain jobs and have custody of children over seven years old.

Sahar Nangoli, a sophomore on the pre-med track, whose family in Iran has been protesting over the last ten days, sees the hijab as a symbol of choice.

“I think an important thing to remember is that in Islam, the beautiful thing about the hijab is that it’s a choice,” she said. “It’s not something that’s forced.”

Dozens of people have been killed and prominent activists and journalists have been arrested in over 80 Iranian cities, The New York Times reported. Protesters in Iran believe that if they do not intervene now, they could face the same fate as Amini.

In spite of the deadly outcomes, USC Middle East studies professor Ciruce A. Movahedi-Lankarani believes that the government won’t go as far as to address the fundamental concerns of the protestors.

“[The government] might be willing to back off on the enforcement of the requirement to dress in a certain way, not to necessarily repeal the laws,” he said.

Movahedi-Lankarani does not think that these protests will succeed in overthrowing the current system of government in Iran. However, sophomore law, history and culture and public relations major Kayla Nickfardjam is hopeful that the Iranian government will be held accountable for its actions.

“I think that something will change in the government,” Nickfardjam said. “At the very least, it helps people realize that covering your hair is a choice that should be made by each woman and not by her government.”

Though this protest may be happening thousands of miles away, Nagoli, whose family continues to fight in the streets for women’s rights, believes that there are still ways for those who are not in Iran to spur change.

“I think the people who are posting about Iran and bringing awareness to it are some of the most helpful people in cases like this,” Nagoli said. “Although they’re miles away, that doesn’t mean that it’s hopeless.”