Mark Ross, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Students from the University of Bristol have called out the university’s lack of response to Iranian anti-government protests, discussing the harmful impacts this can of have on students both in Iran and on campus.
Protests erupted across Iran following the death of 22-year-old woman in September after being taken into custody by the ‘morality police’. She fell into a coma following her arrest for breaking strict laws requiring women to cover their head.
Reports have emerged of brutal treatment of protesters by government forces, who have cracked down on the demonstrations. One human rights group says that the crackdown has killed at least 201 people.
Iran protests day of coverage: How to follow on the BBC https://t.co/KE7r10tqgG— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) October 14, 2022
Epigram talked the UoB’s Persian Soc, who are criticising the university’s response to the crisis. The society is arguing that this issue is not being given as much attention as other political issues, such as the war in Ukraine or the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Notably, university-wide emails were not distributed about the crisis in the same way that they were for other global issues.
Individuals from the society raised their concerns with university staff. Judith Squires, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the university, is reported to have responded that 'this isn't the first time something like has happened in this part of the world, and it definitely won't be the last'.
Instead, the university offered wellbeing support and hosted an event in the Global Lounge:
A society member commented: ‘They offered some coffee and cake. They had a lot of wellbeing support there which was fab. But it’s not wellbeing we are asking for. We want them to email people about it [the crisis].’
Today, the Kurdish community in Bristol stood shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the Iranian people, supporting the women's rights and freedom movement #ZhinaAmini #MahsaAmini pic.twitter.com/BZLm9Udaxi— Tara Miran (@kurd_tara) September 25, 2022
They also mentioned that another reason for the university’s refusal to send emails is fear of adverse feedback.
‘The reason they said they wouldn’t talk about it is that they said it would attract a lot of negative attention and alienate some students.
‘But it is not a political, or racial issue…it is a human rights issue. It is just about people being free…for students not to be shot at.’
When Epigram asks about the situation with other Persian societies at other universities, we learn that UoB is not an anomaly, and that ‘no universities in England are really speaking about it’.
Members go on to explain the benefits of a university-wide email to students affected by the crisis.
‘A lot of people in the society are upset that [those around them] aren’t bringing up this issue in conversation…and offering support…it is quite a big thing, especially for international students who have their family in Iran.
‘It is difficult to focus on their work with everything happening at home’
They add that university publicity would precipitate more student action, such as increased social media posting and support for protests: ‘Instagram and social media is the really the only thing we can do. It puts pressure on political figures, celebrities, governments... to speak out’.
The case of the Iranian protests raises the wider question of when the university should publicly speak out about international issues. A spokesperson for the University of Bristol said:
‘As an institution, we assess how best to respond to human rights issues on a specific and individual basis, as we also do in cases of territorial invasion or warfare.
'Our primary aim is to offer support for members of our community who are most likely to be impacted by any situation in their homeland. In this case, it was felt that we should absolutely support Iranian students, who we reached out to via email, and organised an event in the Global Lounge which was well attended.
'We will also continue to work closely with the Students’ Union and its elected officers to deliver support, through the Global Lounge, for any student or colleague who is affected by the current situation in Iran – and we will adopt a similar approach whenever the need arises in response to other human rights issues and crises in the future.’
Protests are being held every Sunday on College Green in solidarity with the anti-government protests in Iran.