At its last meeting of the year on April 15, the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate passed a resolution (18−1−4) encouraging the administration to express disapproval of the Iranian government’s persecution of the Bahá’í faith, to promote respect of the right of access to education for all and to accept credits and transcripts of students from Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE).
The resolution was submitted by sophomores Alexander Kolodner, Navid Shahidinejad and Fiona Weeks.
The international academic community has grown concerned over the Iranian government’s denial of the right to education to people of Bahá’í faith following a raid on BIHE, a prominent Bahá’í university, last May.
“The Iranian government does not acknowledge the Bahá’í faith, and therefore they do not acknowledge the Bahá’ís,” Shahidinejad said. “In very covert ways, they have been trying to attack the Bahá’í faith and slowly strangle it to death. And one of the latest attacks that has occurred is the denial of the right of education.”
“There needs to be an international effort to support those Bahá’ís that are being persecuted, because this is an international human rights issue,” Kolodner said. “Tufts prides itself on being a school with an intensive International Relations [IR] program, but Tufts cannot call itself an IR−associated school if it does not actively pursue programs that support social justice.”
The resolution called for the administration to recognize transcripts and credits from BIHE.
The four TCU senators who abstained from voting did so because they believed the student government was not responsible for action of this sort, according to Shahidinejad.
“It is neither the prerogative nor the duty of the undergraduate student government to make official statements about foreign national governments,” Senior Senator Jonathan Danzig, who abstained from voting, said. “We could spend every single Senate meeting debating and passing non−binding resolutions on human rights abuses around the world, or we could work on issues that affect Tufts and Tufts’ students, what student government is supposed to do.”
Danzig said his decision to abstain from voting was based solely on the line of the resolution requesting that “Tufts University join the international academic community in voicing its concern over the Iranian government’s denial of the right to education to Bahá’í students.”
Weeks said she believes it is hard to oppose this issue from a student’s perspective.
“I feel like a lot of students can empathize with what is happening in Iran, and it’s kind of natural to want to support their education as we are students ourselves,” she said. “I think it might encounter more opposition at the administrative level, just because accepting credits from this unaccredited university has practical implications.”
Kolodner also acknowledged that the resolution might face some resistance at the administrative level.
“It will be hard to get [the administration] to commit to things, but at the same time I feel like if they realize that this is an international issue that has international support from a wide variety of figures, then it’s something they could use to gain footing and influence with by showing their commitment,” he said.
The Bahá’í faith, a monotheistic religion founded in the 19th century in Iran, emphasizes the spiritual unity of humanity.
“When the Bahá’í faith was started, over 20,000 Bahá’ís were martyred,” Shahidinejad said. “Throughout the years, Bahá’ís have continued to be persecuted in Iran, but the persecution has evolved. Today they are not allowed to own property or businesses, they are wrongfully imprisoned with no justified cause, and they do not have the right to a fair trial.”
Weeks acknowledged that there was still much more to be done in advancing the initiative beyond the Senate resolution.
“This is a first, very preliminary step, and it’s exciting, but I think that we have a long way to go before the real fruits of the resolution come to pass,” she said.
Kolodner encourages anyone interested in helping the cause to initiate contact with the Tufts Bahá’í group.
“If people are passionate about helping other people, it just takes that individual initiative to make it happen,” he said. “And I think that’s what the Bahá’ís need now — people with individual initiative to really push those programs forward.”