Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

People march past Olin Library towards Willard Straight Hall with signs, rallying in support of Mahsa Amini and women in Iran, on Sept. 27.

October 3, 2022

Graduate Students Hold Demonstration in Solidarity with Iranian Protests

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Ho Plaza amassed a crowd of more than 100 students and faculty on the afternoon of Tuesday, Sept. 27 as the rain poured. This did not deter demonstrators from sharing their powerful slogan of “women, life, liberty.”

The demonstration was held in response to protests ravaging Iran since mid-September. On Sept. 16, a 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Jina Amini was murdered in police custody — her death has sparked national outrage in Iran.

Amini was accused by the Iranian Guidance Patrol of improperly wearing a hijab, in violation of the Iranian compulsory hijab mandate. This restriction, which has been in place since 1983, requires all Iranian women to wear a hijab in public.

“These people [the Iran Republic and Iranian Guidance Patrol] have no regard for any aspect of human life and social life,” Ali Farahbakhsh grad said. “So, just name it, freedom, justice, prosperity, human dignity, environmental issues — these people are against it and they think that they own the moral codes and standards for each of these categories.” 

A shrine for Mahsa Amini on Ho Plaza on Sept. 27. (Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor)

In the weeks following Amini’s death, protests erupted across Iran and have continued since. At Cornell, a group of graduate students held a solidarity rally to raise awareness for the ongoing protests. 

Sanaz Sadeghi grad, an executive board member of the Iranian Graduate Student Organization, said it was important to hold the protest to show the Iranian government that Iranians abroad care about what is happening and to raise awareness among members of the campus community who have not heard about the conflict.

“We were also hoping that, you know, we can get some attention from Cornell so they can also provide some support for the Iranian community at Cornell,” Sadeghi said.

Participants in the rally ranged from graduate students, undergraduates and professors from both Cornell and Ithaca College. Sadeghi said that she noticed there were more non-Iranian participants than Iranian students. 

Teddy George ’24 skipped class to attend the rally. George said that he attended the rally to stand with the Iranian community in solidarity and listen to people who have a stake in the conflict. 

“Even random white kids from Philadelphia know what’s going on, and they made [the] time to go support [the rally],” George said.

George explained that his most important motive in attending was the hope that his presence at the rally would help increase the crowd size, encouraging passersby to stop and listen.

“If there’s a big crowd, more people keep coming,” George said.

While Sadeghi said the turnout by the campus community was heartwarming and she is grateful for the support, she is disappointed by the University’s indifference toward the issue.

“Any inclusive community needs to be supportive of the members of their community,” Sadeghi said. “And, right now, there are parts of the community that are going through hard times.” 

The protestors assembled at the Ezra Cornell statue on the arts quad at noon. They discussed the hardships currently facing Iran, including internet access being cut off and the lack of communication with the outside world.

After a crowd of around 60 people assembled, the protestors marched to Ho Plaza, chanting “women, life, liberty,” “say her name” and simply the name “Mahsa Amini.” Some protest-goers held signs, emblazoned with slogans such as “please be our voice,” “I stand with the women in Iran” and “mandatory hijab is not hijab.”

Upon reaching Ho Plaza, the group assembled in front of a makeshift memorial for Mahsa Amini, placed in front of the Cornell Store. After a few speeches, two candles were lit on the memorial in her honor, and flowers were laid at its base.

People place flowers under a shrine for Mahsa Amini on Ho Plaza on Sept. 27. (Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor)

At the rally, two men shaved their heads and two women cut their hair, which to some protestors is symbolic of women removing their beauty that the Islamic Republic mandates they cover. 

Multiple rallyers cut their hair or shaved their heads in support of Mahsa Amini and women in Iran on Ho Plaza, on Sept. 27. (Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor)

Shahrzad Ezzatpour grad explained that these protests highlight decades of accruing grievance against the Islamic regime for corruption, mismanagement of the economy, electoral engineering and unrelenting authoritarianism and abuse.

“Lacking internet access, Iranians are isolated and need support from the global community,” Ezzatpour said in a statement to The Sun. “We believe that issuing a statement of support for the protests is a concrete way for Cornell University to express solidarity, to support its Iranian students and faculty, as well as raise awareness of the events in a U.S. media environment that is barely and inadequately covering the unfolding movement.”

At the protest, Farahbakhsh explained the significance of the current conflict within the context of Iran’s historical oppression of women.

“This is the climax of what has always happened in Iran,” Farahbakhsh said.“We want citizens of the free world to know these are murderers.”

Most recently, in Tehran, Iran, students who were protesting the government at the nation’s prestigious Sharif University were met with teargas and riot police. And over the weekend, many Iranians across the country held a day of action on Oct. 1 in solidarity with the Iranian people.

Farahbakhsh attended a rally in New York City and noted the massive turnout across the world. In Toronto, there were around 50,000 protestors, according to reports from the Toronto Star.

“We have to wait and see if [the revolution] succeeds in practical terms,” Farahbakhsh said. “But, in many aspects, it has already succeeded.”