Shared Struggle: Iranian Activism Reaches the Hilltop

“Everyone is able to see themselves or someone they love in Mahsa,” one student said. PHOTO COURTESY OF USF IRANIAN STUDENT UNION

Flyers that read: “If you’re a feminist, look up #MahsaAmini” and, “Mahsa Amini killed, aged 22, by Iran’s morality police for an ‘improper hijab’” with attached QR codes have spread across the Hilltop over the last two months. 

On Sept. 13, Mahsa Amini, also known by her Kurdish name, Jina Amini, was arrested in Tehran, Iran for not “appropriately” wearing the hijab, a headscarf that is compulsory for women in Iran. 

Accusations and eyewitness accounts claim the “Guidance Patrol,” Iran’s morality police that enforces compliance with the Islamic dress code, brutalized Amini while in their custody, leading to her death. The Iranian government has since issued a statement claiming Amini suddenly suffered a heart attack and brain seizure due to prior existing health issues. 

Amini’s family has denied these claims. Amjad Amini, Mahsa’s father, said to BBC News, “they are lying,” and that, “she has not been to any hospital at all in the past 22 years, other than for a few cold-related sicknesses.”

The circumstances surrounding Amini’s death immediately sparked controversy, and Iranian citizens took to the streets to protest. Protesters were seen shouting, “women, life, freedom” and “death to the dictatorship,” in videos that have circulated from the protests. At the center of these demonstrations, Iranian women have led the way, burned their hijabs, and cut their hair in solidarity with Amini and in opposition to the enforced dress codes.

The news outlet Iran International reports that protesters have been arrested and subject to various forms of violence and mistreatment, being tortured and held in inadequate facilities. According to the article, since the start of the protests, “at least 253 people including 34 children have been killed by government forces.” 

The Foghorn interviewed students and faculty on the Hilltop to understand their perspective on this issue. The Foghorn granted full anonymity to one of these interviewees for their safety as they have direct ties to Iran. This is following a number of influential Iranian figures who have been under threat of arrest or banishment from Iran after supporting protests. Other students are referenced by their first name, for similar safety concerns.

Charly, an Iranian student and senior international studies major, said “it’s sad, but it’s hopeful, too, to see so many people finally be like ‘this is enough,’ and using Mahsa’s death as a symbol of hope and unity. 

“It speaks to a lot of the Persian experience, everyone is able to see themselves or someone they love in Mahsa.”

Iran has seen waves of protests and uprisings against the Islamic regime for accusations of state violence over the past two decades. The Iranian Green Movement of 2009 began as a series of non-violent protests in major cities against the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency and accusations of a rigged election. In 2011, there were protests curtailing the Arab Spring, a series of pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle Eastern region protesting human rights abuses and systemic oppression. In 2019, “Bloody November” began as protests against rises in fuel prices. 

The Hilltop shares support for Masha Armini. PHOTO BY MEGAN ROBERTSON/SF FOGHORN

Internationally, people have expressed their solidarity with Iran and support for the Iranian peoples’ struggle for liberation through domestic protests, and social media campaigns intended to spread awareness. 

Doreen, a second-year international studies student, and board member of the Iranian Student Union (ISU), said the ISU has attended protests as an organization. Since Amini’s death, the ISU has gone to protests in Berkeley, as well as the human chain protest at the Golden Gate Bridge. They encourage digital forms of protest too, “any pictures, any videos that you see on your Instagram, you should do everything in your power to really spread that information,” said Doreen.

Media censorship in Iran has been pervasive the past few years, with the government shutting off all access to the internet during the 2019 protests. Dorreen said a purpose of their advocacy is to combat the stifling of information, and to amplify voices on social media that may otherwise be suppressed and censored by the Iranian government.

A third-year biology student, and member of the ISU, whose name has been removed for anonymity and safety, said that “it’s very easy when you’re apart from your community, which is on the other side of the world, to feel like maybe things are dying down.” Protesting and spreading information via social media has been their way of showing solidarity with Iranian citizens. 

“I feel this guilt of [being] worried about exams while I have distant relatives who are worried about the cost of living, their rights, their ability to speak up against the government,” they said. “It’s difficult to find balance.” 

Despite the tragedies that have come from the protests, many find the movement hopeful and distinct from prior ones, due to its magnitude. Doreen said that “it’s about all of the injustices that are happening because of the Islamic Regime” and that Amini’s death was the tipping point for many. “It started off as protests, but is now more of a revolution against the Islamic Republic as a whole.” 

San Francisco activists join the global movement for Mahsa Amini. PHOTO COURTESY OF USF IRANIAN STUDENT UNION

Professor Nora Fisher-Onar, associate professor and director of the masters in international studies, said that this movement should be an example for other societies battling oppressive forces.

“When you see, in the context of decades of repression, ordinary people willing to risk everything in the pursuit of honor and dignity, it’s really quite moving,” said Onar. “It should be a wake up call to people in Italy, and Sweden, and France, and the United States. It’s not just confined to the Middle East.”

Chair of the international studies department, John Zarobell, said that the kind of oppression Iranians are facing now isn’t too different from oppression in the United States. “It really in that way doesn’t matter that their government is portrayed to be completely different than ours,” he said. “What we see is a power being abused, the police are not acting responsibly, and I think it’s really great students have come together and said we want to promote this as a shared struggle.” 

Nia Ratliff is a third-year design major and deputy writer for the Foghorn. They can be contacted at 


  • Nia Ratliff

    Nia Ratliff is a junior design major and a deputy writer for the Foghorn. They can be reached at

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