UC Santa Barbara alumni and former staff members established the Mahsa Amini Graduate Fellowship in November 2022, looking for female Iranian graduate students studying fields outside of science, technology, engineering and math at the university. The fellowship is currently in its initial stages, and its proprietors are working to establish requirements and other details of the opportunity.
“The university is actively working with the group to consolidate the requirements, logistics, timing and selection procedures for Mahsa Amini Fellowship,” Graduate Assistant Dean John Loftus said in a statement to the Nexus. “We hope to begin offering these fellowships in the near future.”
The fellowship takes inspiration from Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who was arrested by Iranian “morality police” on Sept. 13, 2022, for allegedly violating Islamic laws that require women to wear hijabs. After allegedly being tortured by police, Amini collapsed into a coma and later died in police custody.
Amini’s reported death brought global attention to the dangers that women face in Iran, a momentum that current and former campus members followed to create a fellowship opportunity for Iranian female students at UCSB.
The main creators of the fellowship — Mohamad Nasr-Azadani, a postdoctoral scholar in mechanical engineering, Salva Salmani-Rezaie, a graduate student researcher at UCSB’s Stemmer Lab and Venus Nasri, the Student Affairs assistant director — ultimately founded the fellowship in memory of Amini. The effort was supported by Executive Director of Development Chris Pizzinat and Interim Graduate Dean Leila Rupp.
The fellowship serves Iranian women taking on non-S.T.E.M. majors because such fields are often inaccessible for Iranian women, according to the UCSB Current.
Initial funding for the fellowship began with a GoFundMe campaign set up by Nasr-Azadani and Salmani-Rezaie, raising about $13,000 that launched the project.
In collaboration with the development office, Lofthus said a fellowship fund called the Mahsa Amini Graduate Fellowship Fund is now the primary source for fundraising. The fellowship’s leadership group has raised over $15,000 thus far with hopes to raise more, Lofthus said.
Lofthus spoke about the significance of the fellowship for the Iranian community at UCSB.
“It honors UC Santa Barbara’s strong Iranian community of faculty, staff and students who, in the face of incredible oppression back home, continue to go about their work and studies bravely,” Lofthus said in a statement to the Nexus. “In particular, our Iranian graduate students bring so much to the university.”
Rupp emphasized that the fellowship recognizes the work and courage of women in Iran today.
“It is an incredibly important recognition of what the women of Iran have been doing in leading the protests against the restrictions on their lives and freedom,” she said in a statement to the Nexus. “It is testimony to the courage and commitment of our Iranian community.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the March 9, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.