OCC community unites to process emotions in wake of Iranian protests

Protests erupted in Amsterdam on Oct. 1 in support of Iranian religious freedoms in the wake of Masha Amini's death. 

Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, died in custody of the Iranian morality police after being arrested in Tehran, Iran’s capital, for wearing her hijab “incorrectly” on Sept. 16. 

To commemorate her and bring awareness to the current Iranian protests, Orange Coast College hosted a “Listening and Expressions Session” in the Multicultural Center on Wednesday. Students and faculty joined together to share their emotions about these events, and find support in one another. For privacy of the attendees, photography and recording were not permitted.

Though these protests were ignited by Amini’s death, she is not the only one who has suffered. Many protesters fighting for a woman’s right to choose to wear a hijab are being killed in Iran right now.

A 20-year-old OCC student, who wished to remain anonymous for her safety and her family’s, was impacted by these tragedies on an even more personal level. One of her friends was protesting in Iran, when she was shot in the head and killed.

“I cried for days,” she said. “I felt like my sister had died.” 

Still, the student fears for her friends as they fight for their rights to choose their clothes and hijab every day – endangering themselves, and witnessing violence at very young ages. 

“My friends go through hell every day,” said the student. “They go outside and get shot. They see children younger than them getting killed.”

The student, who was raised in Iran, was taught from a very young age to cover herself with modest clothing and a hijab, and to fear the consequences that would occur if she did not. 

“I remember, when I was 8, they told me ‘if you show your hair, in hell you will be hung by your hair. If you show your boobs, you will be hung by your boobs,’” she said. “As a child I was scared to death.”

The 20-year-old, while still living in Iran, had her own experiences with the morality police when they approached her at her home because of the way she was dressed. 

“In front of my house, they were like, ‘you have to cover up,’” she said.

The death of Nika Shakarami, a 16-year-old girl who also died in custody of the morality police after protesting, also impacted the student intensely. 

Shakarami was arrested by the morality police at a protest on Sept. 19, without any updates given to her family about where she was going. After nine days, they called her family, and told them she was dead. They claimed she died by falling from a building. However, the state of her body after her death showed signs that Nika did not die accidentally, Shakarami’s mother does not believe the claim of accidental death either.

During the session on Wednesday, the anonymous OCC student found a support system in the main speaker of this event, a math professor at OCC who also wishes to remain anonymous to protect her identity when speaking out against the Iranian government. 

“These are the most critical times to stand by each other and emotionally be there for one another,” the professor said.

The professor urged this student and others experiencing intense emotions due to these events to seek out help from resources on campus. 

“I was able to progress because of OCC mental health services,” said the professor. 

Director of OCC Mental Health Services Larry Valentine attended the meeting to listen to those speaking, and in support of people on campus who are struggling emotionally. During the session, he encouraged students to reach out to him in their times of need.

“We want to build relationships with students,” Valentine said. “I’m never going to not talk to someone if they call me and want to talk.” 

The OCC math professor, an immigrant from Iran, also expressed frustration for how overlooked these issues are in America. After attending a rally in California for Iranian women’s freedom, she was distraught by how unenthusiastic the protesters were.

“Here, there are no bullets to our heads,” she said. “The thing that tears us down is not in our faces.” 

She encourages people to spread information about these events and keep speaking out in support for women’s rights. 

“There is nothing anyone can do to change the rules of Iran – it’s about continuous global visibility,” said the professor. “Unless people voice their unity, probably no one will pick up on it.”

The professor also clarified that they do not want to spread hate to those who do choose to wear a hijab, and this is not a hateful movement towards Islam as a whole. 

“We don’t want to be offensive to any religion. We are supportive to Islam. We want women to have a choice,” said the professor. “It’s not about the hijab – it’s about the choice to wear it or not.”

Vice President of Student Services Madjid Niroumand helped host this meeting as well, sharing his personal experience in light of these events. 

“As an Iranian, there’s a lot of emotion for all of us,” Niroumand said. “I’m up all night, checking the news. When I check on my mom in the morning, she’s been up all night checking the news.”

Niroumand also expressed his support for women and girls that risk their lives every day to protest. 

“We support and promote global communication, and we support all students fighting for their rights. A lot of us hope there are changes for women’s rights and human rights for us,” Niroumand said.

OCC President Angelica Suarez also attended and gave her support at the session.

“I’m here in solidarity,” she said. “I’m really glad we have this space,” said Suarez. 

Students can find support from the Mental Health Care Department in the Student Health Center, where there are 12 different therapists available to help students with various services they may need.

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