When Boise State junior psychology major Yasaman Parthor’s parents made the decision to move to the United States, they did so in order to provide Yasaman and her brother with an education that was not available for them in Iran. The family left their country in order to find a place where they were free to practice their religion, the Bahà’ì faith.
The Bahà’ì club at Boise State will be showing a documentary on March 7 at Boise State called “Changing the World, One Wall at a Time,” which discusses the human rights movement started by Canadian-Iranian Maziar Bahari, a non-Bahà’ì reporter who saw injustice and decided to act.
“This documentary really captures the story of the street art campaign. It’s raising awareness about the young people in Iran who are unable to have a higher education. It’s a pretty severe human rights violation that I’m sure a lot of people don’t even know about,” Bahà’ì community member Barba Mark said.
This battle fought through art seeks to inform the wider world of the problems Bahà’ìs face within Iran. Members of the Bahà’ì religion are lawfully unable to seek a higher education within Iran. This lesser-known human rights violation has been in effect since 2006 when the Iranian government instructed universities to expel all Bahà’ì students. This 300,000-member Bahà’ì community faces harassment from both their fellow Iranians as well as the Iran government, while the members of the political sector blatantly deny the injustice.
The movement brings the fight for education in Iran to the forefront of world thought through beautiful murals painted with the words “education is not a crime.” These murals found their first homes in Harlem, New York, where disadvantaged members of our own country related to the struggles of attaining a higher education. The movement has since spread to places as far reaching as Australia, South Africa and France. While we do not have any of these murals at Boise State, that does not mean that members of the community, students or Treasure Valley citizens are not concerned or involved in the issue at hand.
“If I was in Iran currently, I wouldn’t be able to go to school. I wouldn’t be able to attend a university. Why? Because I am a Bahà’ì and the Islamic government deprives students, like myself, of their basic right to get an education simply because we have different beliefs,” Parthor wrote, “I had the privilege of coming to a country where I could receive an education and further it by attending a university.”
In Iran, if a Bahà’ì individual wishes to seek a higher education they must do so in secret through the illegal organization, The Baha’i Institute of Higher Education. This is where Iranian citizens like Parthor’s mother were forced to turn in order to pursue their education. The only other recourse is to leave the country.
With this in mind, Bahà’ì Club members bring the issues to campus, and while they may not be directly involved with the Education is Not a Crime movement, they work to spread inclusivity and knowledge to their Boise community through their service in the Treasure Valley, their open doors and events such as the documentary showing.
At Boise State, the Bahà’ì Club meets to pray, serve the community, learn and find connections with anyone interested in “expanding their world view.” While some members, such as Parthor, joined the club because of their religious affiliations, other members have joined because of the club’s inclusivity. All members of the club made it clear one does not have to be a Bahà’ì to join the club.
“The campus club has been going on since at least 1994. They want to make a change in the world, and anyone in any religion is welcome to join. They are based around the Bahà’ì principle of the oneness of mankind,” Mark said.
“The club provides a space for Bahà’ìs and non-Bahà’ì to come and enjoy each other’s company,” said Parthor.
George Nallathamby, an active member of the Bahà’ì club, is not technically a member of the Baha’i religion. He explained that as a Christian, he found the open and welcoming nature of the club to be a refreshing environment to grow as a person while developing his own spiritual identity. The on-campus club hopes to allow for a conversation about the Bahà’ì faith, humanity in general and the issues pertaining to the Education is Not a Crime movement.
Aside from meeting to develop this spiritual identity, the club spends a large portion of its time planning and participating in various service projects around Boise. From making dog treats for the Humane Society to visiting elderly members of the community, the members of the club are up for the challenge.
“There is sort of a two-fold purpose for us of building a spiritual identity, as well as the service we do as part of the Bahà’ì club,” Nallathamby said.
As individuals with the access to university education, the club members encourage participation in the Education is Not a Crime as well as other education reforms needed worldwide.
Wyatt Morgano, Boise State elementary education major, asks his fellow students, “What would it be like if you were deprived of your higher education?”
Morgano stressed that students in the United States, and specifically here at Boise State, should consider ourselves lucky. Injustices like this one can and do happen to anyone.
“We need to stand up for them and defend their right to an education. We are college students as well, and we have to defend other students,” Morgano said.
Morgano and his fellow club members encouraged all students to come and watch the documentary and educate themselves, not only on the Bahà’ì faith, but the injustices faced by this religious community and others around the world.
“Just be a defender of higher education. Bahà’ì are not the only ones being deprived of an education,” Morgano said.