The University of California Student Association (UCSA) recognized a UCSB student and May 23, 2014, shooting survivor as Student Advocate of the Year on Sunday.
Siavash Zohoori, a fourth-year economics and sociology double major, received the award for working toward improvements in sexual assault prevention and mental health services.
Zohoori led the beginning stages of UCSA’s #HowAreYou campaign in early summer 2015, pushing forward a system-wide effort to reform student mental health services on UC campuses. He currently serves as the undergraduate representative on the UC’s Student Mental Health Oversight Committee.
Although he was unable to attend the ceremony in Sacramento, Zohoori said UCSA’s award serves as validation for his work.
“It’s so hard sometimes. It feels like you may not be going anywhere,” Zohoori said. “This gives me momentum and knowing that I’m going the right way.”
After surviving the shooting in 2014, Zohoori began a “period of studying” to educate himself about gun violence. His research directed him to create the “Boys ‘n’ Guns” initiative, which aims to address the relationship between mental health, gun violence and societal pressures of masculinity.
Zohoori also hosted several workshops on sexual assault and mental health at UCSA conferences throughout 2014 and 2015. In October 2015, he spoke to UCSB’s Inter-Fraternity Council about a culture of sexual assault within universities.
“I started to really learn to use my story to do something that I really love doing, and that’s to help people feel more connected,” Zohoori said.
“He’s done exceptional things, both with his own program and with helping with a lot of statewide initiatives,” said Mohsin Mirza, Associated Students External Vice President of Statewide Affairs (EVPSA) and fourth-year black studies and sociology double major.
Prior to the creation of the #HowAreYou campaign, Mirza’s office asked Zohoori to participate in forming a statewide student mental health campaign, first known as #LetsTalk.
“We were anticipating that it would be a big topic in the year to come, but even then we didn’t expect it to be what it became,” Mirza said. “He played a big part in that.”
Zohoori released his video “Why Do Mass Shootings Happen?” in February, in which he speaks about his personal experiences during the events of May 23, 2014.
In the video, he narrates riding his bike by the 7-Eleven in Isla Vista when he witnessed Elliot Rodger shoot two bikers in front of him. Zohoori hid in the 7-Eleven until he could return home after the shooting had ended.
“I had a dream that Elliot Rodger was chasing me while I was running along this chain-link fence, and I just woke up right before he got me,” Zohoori says in the video. “It was so fucking scary.”
If students create a supportive and nurturing environment for each other, Zohoori says the consequences of hyper-masculinity can be avoided.
“We’re all going through tough times in our life — we’re all going through shit,” Zohoori says in the video. “We need to show each other more support and compassion, just like we did back in May, because with communities like these we’d never feel the need to prove ourselves.”