MENASA student leaders concerned after Pitt says they have no plans to release University-wide statement on Iran

A+crowd+stands+in+solidarity+with+the+people+of+Iran+outside+of+the+Cathedral+of+Learning+on+Oct.+24.+%0A

Amaya Lobato | Staff Photographer

A crowd stands in solidarity with the people of Iran outside of the Cathedral of Learning on Oct. 24.

By Betul Tuncer, Managing Editor

In response to a letter signed by 115 student leaders to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, the Vice Provost of Graduate Students sent the Middle Eastern and North African Student Association Pitt’s statement on world events. Kinan Moukamal expressed his disappointment toward the statement, saying it doesn’t clearly note Iran in the title and doesn’t offer enough support for the Iranian community.  

“They didn’t say that they were concerned about Iranian students on campus,” Moukamal, the co-president of MENASA, said. “They didn’t say they were concerned about Iranian faculty on campus. They didn’t say they were concerned about Iranians abroad. They said nothing about that.”

The letter, which was sent out on Oct. 20 by MENASA, asked Pitt to release an official University-wide statement on the recent human rights concerns in Iran and lists a series of demands, including application waivers for prospective students from Iran and mental health services for Iranian students and faculty on campus. 

According to University spokesperson Jared Stonesifer, Pitt does not currently have plans to release another public statement, though they have started working on meeting some of MENASA’s demands. Stonesifer added that the University intends to send out application fee waivers to Iranian student applicants who have shown interest in Pitt and that any prospective undergraduate student from Iran can request a waiver by emailing [email protected]

“At least two of the demands in the petition have been or very soon will be addressed by administration: fee waivers for the fall 2023 application cycle to all Iranian prospective undergraduate students, as well as mental health resources for students and faculty who need them,” Stonesifer said. 

Pitt’s statement on world events, which according to Stonesifer was posted on the University Center for International Studies website on Nov. 2, mentions the recent protests in Iran, notes that Pitt believes in “human rights for all people” and promises direct outreach to students on campus.  

Moukamal believes Pitt should send out another statement that properly expresses concern and support for the Iranian community through a University-wide email and a Pittwire post, like it’s done for other international human rights issues in the past, including the war in Ukraine. 

According to MENASA co-president Elyanna Sharbaji, following the response they received from Vice Provost of Graduate Students Amanda Godley, MENASA reached out to the University again on Monday to request another statement that clearly addresses concern for Iranian students and the Iranian community. 

“Acknowledging the violence that has been done to the Iranian protesters and citizens,” Sharbaji, a junior psychology and political science major, said. “Also mentioning how the students can reach out for help. They can’t just tell them we’re gonna reach out to you.”

Stonesifer said the University reached out to Iranian students on campus on multiple occasions. However, student leaders at MENASA noted that they were not informed of any efforts from the University to reach out to the Iranian community at Pitt and that the organization did not hear from Pitt until after they released the letter. 

Stonesifer said Ariel Armony, the vice chancellor for Global Affairs, and Godley sent Iranian students and postdocs a message on Sept. 29, and Dean of Students Carla Panzella sent all Iranian students in Pitt’s database a message on Oct. 21. Stonesifer said Panzella’s message included information on how to contact Pitt Care and Resource Support Team managers and the University Counseling Center.

MENASA’s student leaders also met with Kenyon Bonner, the vice provost for Student Affairs,  Clyde Wilson Pickett, the vice chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Panzella and Godley on Thursday afternoon. Moukamal, a senior computer science and linguistics major, said they discussed an official statement from Pitt, providing specialized mental health resources for the Iranian community at Pitt and application waiver fees for prospective Iraninan students. 

Moukamal said while the meeting showed some potential, he’s disappointed that it took administration almost a month after the release of the letter to meet with MENASA. He added that while administrators did apologize to the organization for the University’s delayed response to the situation in Iran, he still thinks Pitt should make a public apology as well. 

“But I do have hoped that now that the administration has seen how negatively their silence impacts their students that they will work harder to actively support their students when they voice their concerns,” Moukamal said. “And I look forward to working with them and holding them responsible for creating an equitable campus, as that is their job.”

MENASA also met with the Student Government Board on Friday afternoon to discuss how to support the organization’s efforts and the Iranian community at Pitt. Moukamal said he appreciated meeting with SGB and is thankful for their support.

“I’m very hopeful with SGB, the experience was overwhelmingly positive,” Moukamal said. “They gave us a space to speak. They are using their positions as student leaders that directly work with the administration to apply more pressure to them in releasing a statement and in creating a more equitable campus, which we are very thankful for.”

Moukamal said an official statement would set a precedent that “students of marginalized communities will be supported by the University the same way that they support people who are white.” Sharbaji added that by releasing another statement Pitt can set an example as an academic institution that speaks up about human rights everywhere. 

“The violence in the Middle East is considered the norm. And no one speaks up about it because it’s just normalized, it’s always there,” Sharbaji said. “They think it’s not like Europe, or any other white country.”

Moukamal said it’s also important for the University to listen to students when they ask for statements on issues because it shows that “you value and respect them.” He added that when academic institutions don’t speak up about human rights issues happening in the Middle East, they risk perpetuating the idea that violence in the Middle East is normal. 

“Violence everywhere should be considered an equal tragedy,” Moukamal said. “People should be as outraged with what’s happening in Ukraine and with what’s happening in Iran, with what’s happening in America with what’s happening in Turkey. They should be equally outraged.”