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Higher education struggles in Iran

Justin Baldoni, a television actor from Los Angeles and member of the Baha’I faith, discusses the documentary film “Education Under Fire” with the film’s director, Jeff Kaufman. The documentary, which was played to the audience, focused on the struggles and inspiring lives of teachers from the Baha’I Institute for Higher Education in Iran./photo by Zachary Horton

Cindy Vallejo
Staff Writer

The Interfaith Student Council hosted the discussion “Education Under Fire” on Tuesday in the Campus Center Ballroom to discuss the Iranian government’s prohibition of higher education for the Baha’i community.

The Baha’i communities took a risk and created the Baha’i Institution of Higher Education schools for students to continue their education, even though it is prohibited.

Those who have been found to be affiliated with this program have been interrogated, imprisoned and executed.

“I wanted to bring awareness to the student body of ULV and what is happening to the Baha’i community is a social justice issue and all the more reason to have this event,” said Tiffany Koval, the president of Interfaith Student Council.

Baldoni, known for his roles in the television shows “Everwood,” “Charmed” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investiga­tion,” was the host.

This event resulted after an introduction between Zandra Wagoner, adviser of the Interfaith Student Council, and Soheila Azizi, a graduate of ULV’s College of Law, who shared with Wagoner the restrictions the Baha’i community faces in Iran.

The program began with an introduction by Wagoner and Koval, followed by a two-minute introductory video directed by Rainn Wilson.

Next, A 30-minute documentary, which featured several testimonials from students and teachers at BIHE was shown.

After the documentary, there was a panel discussion which included Iraj Kamalabadi, a member of the Baha’I community, Pedram Roushan, a ULV graduate, and Jeff Kaufman, director of “Education Under Fire.”

“I remember when schools were ransacked by government officials, they took computers and teachers,” Roushan said. “I was so hungry for education that I made my own whiteboard and kept learning.”

Kamalabadi spoke to the audience about his experience of having his father taken away from him by government officials when he was a child because he was of Baha’i faith.

“It’s terrible having your parent be jailed for a long period of time just for being who he is,” said Amy Chen, co-chairwoman of Amnesty International at UCLA. “So I can’t imagine being in his position.”

Kaufman and Baldoni served as advocates and shared their stories of meeting people in the Baha’I community.

Representatives from UCLA’s Amnesty International group were also present, asking audience members to sign a petition in support of a student who was sentenced to eight years in prison for speaking out against the regime in Iran.

“The fact that Najib was a student leader in Iran when he was arrested has weight behind it and it is also a human rights issue related to Iran,” Chen said.

“Tonight was beautiful because we listened to a very horrifying issue and it was beautiful hearing that the Baha’i community’s response was peaceful,” Wagoner said.

“They are spreading a message with peace to give justice.”

For more information visit educationunderfire.com.

Cindy Vallejo can be reached at cindy.vallejo@laverne.edu.

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