TEHRAN, Iran – A star next to a student’s name in Iran is not a symbol of educational accomplishment, contrary to the education systems in other countries. Students who receive a star next to their name are deemed state threats. Iran sanctions starred students with partial or complete bans from receiving education in Iran.
Mehdi Arabshahi wrote a commentary in the Times Union about his experience as a starred student in Iran. He was shocked to learn in 2006 that the Iranian government had starred him. Arabshahi was applying for a master’s program when he was notified of his status. He could not fathom how he had received two stars next to his name.
Arabshahi’s legal and nonviolent participation in student affairs and political issues during his undergraduate education had made him a government target. The Iranian government gave him an ultimatum. Arabshahi had the choice either to end his political participation or to face expulsion.
Arabshahi was inspired by his two stars to continue his fight for democracy rather than be deterred from joining in on political activities. He moved forward with his graduate studies. Being elected president of the Office for Consolidating Unity gave him the opportunity to lead Iran’s largest student union for democracy and human rights.
Participation in political and student activism led Arabshahi to get arrested four times. Arabshahi was not allowed to defend his thesis and eventually received a ban from Iranian education. Now an exiled Iranian, he is currently a graduate student at the State University of New York.
The progression of Iran could potentially decline as accomplished students have either fled to other countries to continue their education or remained in Iran unable to finish their education. Former president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cracked down on politically involved students. Under his leadership, 770 students had been starred.
The Iranian election protest in 2009 resulted in dozens of students being imprisoned for their protests against Ahmadinejad and they have yet to be freed. Hassan Rouhani is the new president of Iran and he is working towards reinstating starred students.
Rouhani appointed Jafar Tofighi as the interim higher education minister in August to bring forth starred students for reinstatement. A committee was formed to process student and faculty member complaints in order to resolve the issue of starred students. The committee had received 400 to 500 complaints in mid-September, only a month after its creation. It has cleared 400 starred students for re-enrollment as of October.
Tofighi removed Sadreddin Shariati from his post as the head of Allameh Tabatabai University, Tehran’s most eminent institution of human sciences. Shariati is an ultraconservative formerly appointed by Ahmadinejad who had many instances of students and faculty being harassed and expelled under his watch. He applauded himself for the gender segregation in 98 percent of the Bachelor of Arts degree courses and all the Master of Arts degree courses.
Iran still has much left to do in the reinstatement of starred students, as 1,000 students have been banned from education in Iran since 2009. Female students are also at a disadvantage because the female population is larger than the male population in Iran. It will take longer for female students to all get reinstated as a result.
Student participation in political activism may be on the decline in Iran. The social isolation as a starred student and the 40 percent youth unemployment rate have students more cautious about their actions. Political activism is a major risk that can cause significant loss. Students are more concerned about finding jobs and earning a livelihood in the struggling economy.
– Brittany Mannings
Sources: Aljazeera America, The Guardian, Times Union