Campus discussion airs concerns over Iranian policy

By Patrick Johnston

(Claire Anderson/Daily Collegian)
(Claire Anderson/Daily Collegian)

After a controversial week for the University of Massachusetts administration, the campus community gathered in the Cape Cod Lounge Wednesday night to discuss the recent ban UMass had placed on admitting Iranian national students to engineering and science programs.

The evening began with hosts Jessica Berger of the International Relations Club and Nasim Cheraghi, president of the UMass Undergraduate Persian Student Association, bringing the room up to speed on the situation with a short slide show.

It was announced recently that UMass would revise its decision to not admit Iranian nationals to certain science courses and programs. Berger made it especially clear that “it hasn’t been reversed, it has only been revised.” The slide show also mentioned that 79 percent of Iranian students study sciences, and that this policy will adversely affect many of them.

After the situation was explained, the microphone was turned over to the audience and the group discussion began. Audience members widely criticized the policy and called for a full reversal.

(Claire Anderson/Daily Collegian)
(Claire Anderson/Daily Collegian)

Santiago Vidales, a UMass graduate student, called the policy, “Racist and Islamophobic.” Vidales went on to say that those in opposition to this policy must “keep the pressure up,” and, “People should be fired over this.” His comments were met with applause.

The original policy was criticized for taking a zealous interpretation of the act it was apparently intended to support. A state department official told the Boston Globe recently that “U.S. law does not prohibit qualified Iranian nationals coming to the United States for education in science and engineering,” and, “each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”

Michael Havlin, a UMass student, said “(The administration of UMass) took a very broad interpretation of this policy.”

Beyond criticism of the policy being blatantly discriminatory, even in a revised state, many knocked the administration for enforcing an act that is supposed to be enforced by the secretary of state and the State Department. Many raised concerns that this perceived overreach might be a slippery slope and more may come if students did not respond.

Many also expressed fear that this policy might validate racist sentiments in members of the student population.

Another criticism that was brought up was the fact that the policy was not mentioned or discussed with any members of the student government. This point made by President of the Graduate Student Senate Adina Giannelli, who referred to the creators of the policy as “rogue administrators.”

Others criticized the administration for not showing up to the event. The event, according to student and speaker Erin Wolosz, was one that the administration was “very aware of.”

Vidales further criticized the administration’s absence.

“Clearly they are too cowardly to come here and face students,” he said.

At the end of the event speakers urged everyone to get involved in combating this policy by using #weareallumass on Twitter.

Patrick Johnston can be reached at [email protected]