Mahsa Amini’s Legacy

She was a young Iranian woman on vacation — just days before starting college — when she died while being detained by the country’s morality police. Mahsa Amini’s death in September 2022 set off women-led protests across the country and brought international attention to the dangers women face in Iran. Inspired by these events, UC Santa Barbara’s tightknit Iranian community has created a fund for women like Amini to pursue graduate studies at UCSB.

“I grew up in Iran with all the gender apartheid that the Islamic Republic is forcing on women,” says Salva Salmani-Rezaie Ph.D. ’21, who studied material science. “The only way out for women in countries like Iran is through education.” Salmani- Rezaie is now a Kavli postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University and will join The Ohio State University’s faculty next fall.

Shortly after Amini’s death was reported, Salmani-Rezaie, Mohamad Nasr-Azadani Ph.D. ’13, and another alumnus (who requested to remain anonymous) came together with retired staff member Venus Nasri to create the Mahsa Amini Graduate Fellowship for Iranian women studying non-STEM fields at UCSB. The group decided to target non-STEM majors because these fields are often inaccessible to Iranian students, particularly women. A GoFundMe page the group set up quickly drew in $13,000.

“You have seen the value of the left brain of Iranian society, which is logic, engineering and science, but not the right brain,” says Nasr-Azadani, who studied mechanical engineering. “The right brain is what you’re hearing now in the news: the passion that women have, the leadership they have taken, the beauty of the innovation they have taken in the demonstration.” Nasr- Azadani now works in applied research focused on artificial intelligence at Accenture Labs in San Francisco.

With the help of Nasri, the proposal was accepted by UCSB’s Division of Student Affairs, where she worked for many years. Though retired, Nasri volunteers as a lead adviser for graduate students in the Islamic Society of Santa Barbara.

“The Mahsa Amini Fellowship is world-changing in so many ways,” says Interim Graduate Dean Leila Rupp. “It honors not just the death of one woman but the courage of all the Iranian women and others who take to the streets in protest. Here on campus, it honors the Iranian community of faculty, staff and students who, in the face of oppression back home and anti-Iranian sentiment in the U.S., bravely go about their work and studies. And it recognizes what Iranian graduate students bring to our university community, from the sciences to the humanities and social sciences.”

UC Santa Barbara is believed to be the first university in North America to establish a graduate fellowship in Mahsa Amini’s name.

Mahsa Amini illustration

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