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UCI Jordan Center Presents Panel About Iranian Women In Academia

The UCI Jordan Center for Persian Studies hosted a panel, moderated by UCI humanities professor Nasrin Rahimieh, on discussing Iranian women in academia on Nov. 6.

Some of the panelists included social sciences associate professor at Long Beach City College Annahita Mahdavi, Persian studies associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Claudia Yaghoobi and political science chair and professor at Santiago Canyon College Nooshan Shekarabi. The panel spoke about their challenges and experiences as Iranian women in academia. 

After 1979, the United States closed its embassy in Iran and those seeking visas moved to Turkey. Mahdavi recounted how she left Iran in 1985 and was stuck in Turkey for several years. After 15 years, she was finally able to get her U.S. citizenship. 

She began gaining interest in the education system during her master’s degree in clinical psychology at Pepperdine University, where she was required to do an internship as a supplement to the curriculum. 

“I ended up doing my internship with the juvenile population: adolescents and teenagers that were not able to be mainstream and so they were in special schooling … it was my first encounter with the prison population,” Mahdavi said.

Yaghoobi’s immigration story posed different challenges. An Armenian raised in Iran, Yaghoobi was a tenured professor in her home country before arriving in the U.S. in 2006. 

“When I arrived, I was essentially made to start from the beginning because they didn’t accept my credentials here,” Yaghoobi said. 

After arriving in Los Angeles, Yaghoobi had to work as a CVS merchandiser in order to make ends meet. After 14 years, she was finally able to achieve her goal of teaching at an American university.

Shekarabi shared Yaghoobi and Mahdavi’s passion for teaching when she first started teaching 21 years ago at Santana Canyon College. Shekarabi first came to the U.S. in 1984 and obtained a degree in political science from Cal State Fullerton. 

A shared challenge that these women faced coming from Iran and learning how to become part of the academic world was the struggle to find an identity among the academic community. 

“It’s difficult to even convince a lot of people in our community that we are not to be identified as white,” Shekarabi said.

Sherkarabi considers it offensive when others try to identify her as being white and when white people try to identify as people of color.

“[White women] want to have the privilege that comes with being a woman of color from fellowships, positions, [and] hiring,” she said.

Although being a woman of color does offer more opportunities, Shekarabi feels that “the miniscule [advantage] that is being given to women of color is also being stolen [from them].” 

Magaly Bravo is a Campus News Intern for the Fall 2020 Quarter. She can be reached at bravomt@uci.edu