While teaching her class, Pouye Khoshkoo, a graduate assistant teaching Persian at the UA was asked, “What do Iranian girls look like?”
Khoshkoo used the class time to look up photos and describe to students first-hand what she knew.
They asked her specifically, “are they under the veil, covered, burqa?” Khoshkoo responded, “I’m saying no, it’s like what you see here and then we have to Google it.”
Khoshkoo showed them what she described as fashionable, nice and colorful styles and some of the class still didn’t believe.
“Then you have to go show it on two different sources and make them believe that people are not different around the world,” she said.
When she was younger, Khoshkoo said she had the energy to answer the student’s similar questions about the Middle East to try and eliminate any misconceptions that they have. Today, those same questions wear on her.
“When I was younger, I started teaching at University of Wisconsin-Madison and I had a range of students also, like 45 to 50, and then I had more energy,” Khoshkoo said. “But after doing this for eight years, sometimes I feel really broken from inside. That ‘why should I keep doing this?’ The world is not going in a direction that gives the right information to people and it’s tough.”
On Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed executive orders that banned immigrants and cut off refugees from seven Middle Eastern countries. One of those impacted was Khoshkoo’s home country of Iran.
The days that followed weighed on Khoshkoo more than the questions her students asked. Although she is a U.S. citizen, her close friends around her were impacted.
“We were numb the whole week ... I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t walk,” she said. “I just read the news and I started crying. I was preparing materials for my Persian class about election in Iran, freedom of speech and constitution and I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ ”
Khoshkoo, a graduate student in the Middle Eastern and North African Studies program came to the U.S. in 2009 and received a student visa after she graduated from the University of Tehran. She received her citizenship in Jan. 2016 after marrying a U.S. citizen.
She experienced how the process affected people coming to the U.S. years before the ban.
“Some of my friends had all these problems [with] the single-entry visa; you come in and you cannot go out,” she said.
Under the Obama administration, the rules were changed for those with single-entry student visas in 2011. The policy change allowed for multiple-entry student visas, so Iranian students could visit family and come back to their studies.
“We were so happy when President Obama made it multiple entry. It was a relief,” Khoshkoo said.
Now, under the executive order, at least 60,000 visas were revoked while the ban was implemented.
“Even as a U.S. citizen, I’m concerned,” Khoshkoo said as she first received the news of the orders. “At the moment I read this news, I saw people—Iraqi, Syrians, all of them—were detained in the airports. I was like ‘I wish I could just leave everything now behind and just go.’ ”
She said that two of her friends were overseas conducting field work when the orders were signed.
“They are out of the country for their field work. One went to Afghanistan and the other is in Iran; they didn’t go there illegally,” she said. “The university allowed them to go there and the one in Afghanistan now has the problem because Afghanistan doesn’t issue him a visa to stay. He can’t go back to Iran, he can’t come to the U.S. What’s going on?”
The UA Global Initiatives office said in a statement that students from the countries listed should refrain from traveling.
“Given the effect of the Executive Order in conjunction with statements by the Department of Homeland Security, we strongly urge that international students, scholars, staff and faculty from any of the seven designated countries listed above refrain from traveling outside the U.S. until further notice,” Mike Proctor, vice president of the department, wrote.
Khoshkoo said that if similar policies continue against international students, they will reconsider coming to schools in the U.S. This would ultimately impact universities and departments like UA Global Initiatives.
“If the U.S. is going to go in this direction, it’s losing its credibility, its position among the other countries,” she said. “I don’t think they’re going to consider as much as before to come to this country.”
Khoshkoo said the lack of knowledge and understanding is the fuel to misconceptions and discrimination.
“It’s scary that Muslims are the object of these rules, the ignorance, the lack of knowledge about the other countries ...” she said, “The ignorance is the threat of the people and it’s tough to see everyone go through this.”
Suzanne Panferov, associate vice president of the Global Initiatives office, said the UA is sending information to the community about the executive orders.
“We’re trying to educate as much as we can,” she said. “We already have a message going out to travelers and we’re updating a webpage specifically for this topic with a lot of external resources that will help people make informed decisions.”
Throughout the legislative process of the executive orders being enacted and suspended, one event that encouraged Khoshkoo was the protest in front of Sen. John McCain’s Tucson office.
“I was really happy to see how people reacted to this … the atmosphere was really good,” she said. “It was so good to see that still people care.”
More than 1,000 people attended the event.
All of the signs reminded her of the past pictures she saw of the Iranian revolution when the U.S. embassy was taken by a group Iranian students and U.S. citizens called for Iranians to leave. Now, the reverse was taking place before her eyes.
For many, including Khoshkoo, the future that lies ahead is still scary.
“I’ve been here for eight years and I’ve never felt this unsecured in this land,” she said. “Everyone should be really concerned.”
At the end of it all, all of the people impacted are humans and we have to take a stand, Khoshkoo said. “If we don’t stand against such a thing, I think we should reconsider definitions on the word humanity.”
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