Here’s How U.S. College Students Are Showing Support for Iranian Women’s Rights Protests

One month after the death of an Iranian woman in the custody of morality police, students across the U.S. continue to support a worldwide women's rights movement.

Published October 21, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
Here’s How U.S. College Students Are Showing Support for Iranian Women’s Rights Protests
Opinion & Analysis
Photo by SAFIN HAMED/Contributor / AFP / Getty Images

  • Mahsa Amini died Sept. 16 while in the custody of Iran's morality police for allegedly violating the Islamic dress code.
  • Protests in Iran sparked by her death have expanded into a worldwide women's rights movement.
  • U.S. college students are bringing that movement to campuses across the country.

One month after protests erupted in Iran over the death of a 22-year-old woman in the custody of the country's morality police, a global women's rights movement is being stoked on U.S. college campuses.

Mahsa Amini was visiting Tehran from Iran's Kurdistan province when she was arrested Sept. 13 for allegedly violating the country's strict Islamic dress code, The New York Times reported. She died in police custody Sept. 16.

Iran's Islamic Republic requires women to cover their hair with a headscarf, or hijab, and their arms and legs with loose clothing in public, the Associated Press reported.

The dress code, which went into effect after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, is enforced by the morality police, officially known as the Guidance Patrol. Iranian women have long flouted the rules, especially in major cities such as Tehran, but since the election of hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi last year, the morality police appear to have stepped up enforcement, the Associated Press reported.

Iranian authorities detained Amini for allegedly wearing her hijab too loosely and say she later died of a heart attack, according to reports. Her family says she was beaten by police and that they were prevented from seeing her body before she was buried.

A viral image of Amini in a hospital bed sparked protests in Kurdistan that spread across Iran following her Sept. 17 funeral, NPR reported.

Protesters who view Amini's death as part of the Islamic Republic's ongoing violence against women have taken up the rallying cry of Women, Life, Freedom, while some have chanted death to the dictator, referring to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The anger of women is palpable in the most recent demonstrations, The Wall Street Journal reported. They are cutting their hair on the streets, burning their headscarves and confronting authorities.

Those authorities have responded with targeted internet shutdowns and violence. As of Oct. 17, the death toll in Iran stands at at least 215, according to Iran Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization based in Norway.

Now, Iran's women's rights movement has spread to U.S. college campuses, where students are likewise protesting, educating, and even cutting their hair in solidarity. Here's an overview of how American college students are supporting Iranian women.

Women, Life, Freedom Heard Across College Campuses

Iranian college students have led protests in their country. And now students worldwide, including those at colleges across the U.S., have rallied to their cause.

In early October, students at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran gathered in an anti-government protest where they clashed with security forces, according to The Guardian. Several students were arrested, which intensified levels of protests at Sharif and other universities, such as the Ferdowsi University of Mashhad in northeastern Iran.

In the U.S., Iranian and Persian student organizations have organized vigils, protests on campuses or in surrounding communities, and even artistic expressions to memorialize Amini.

At Boston University (BU), the Persian Student Association held a candlelight vigil for Amini on Sept. 29, according to The Daily Free Press, the school's independent student newspaper.

BU student Yasmin Ghomashchi told the Free Press that it is an incredibly stressful time for students with friends and family still in Iran.

I'm not able to contact my family because they don't have access to the internet, she said.

Students from the Iranian Student Association at North Carolina State University (NC State) in Raleigh, North Carolina, painted a large mural of Amini in their free expression tunnel to educate other students about the protests in Iran.

Other students at NC State cut sections of their hair with scissors in honor of Amini as a symbol of solidarity with female protesters in Iran and worldwide who have done the same.

Hair was likewise a symbol at protests at Kansas University, according to The University Daily Kansan, an independent student newspaper. There, students tied their ponytails together with rope, symbolizing the common fate and pain of all Iranian women who are all being discriminated against.

While spreading the word to passersby, the performers only spoke in Farsi to convey the current issue lost through language barriers, the paper reported.

Elsewhere, students across the country are taking up the chant of Women, Life, Freedom.

At Pennsylvania State University, there are roughly 300 people from Iran who are students, faculty, or staff, according to the Daily Collegian, an independent student newspaper. Over 100 of them gathered outside of one of the university's buildings, chatting, singing, and crying in late September.

One protester told the paper they wanted to be Amini's voice so her name is not forgotten.

Just like any victim of cruelty and injustice, we want to repeat her name so her story is not forgotten. And hopefully her story can lead to change.