A group of UNC students, faculty and staff is trying to raise awareness about a group of people who are systematically denied access to education — the Baha’i in Iran.
Education Under Fire, an international campaign started at Harvard University last year, is trying to help the 300,000 Baha’i people in Iran by providing them with educational opportunities.
And a group of UNC students is joining the effort. UNC’s Education Under Fire campaign began mostly among graduate students, professors and staff in January and has since reached out to undergraduates.
UNC is hosting a screening of the documentary “Education Under Fire” tonight at 7 p.m. in the Nelson Mandela Auditorium of the FedEx Global Education Center. Before the screening, the film’s executive producer, David Hoffman, will give a brief speech about the situation in Iran.
The Baha’i faith was founded in Iran in the 1800s but has since spread across the world. The Baha’i believe in the unity of all religions, said Steven Kolins, who works in the Undergraduate Library.
The Baha’i have faced persecution for their beliefs since their creation, but throughout the past few decades, the persecution has grown more insidious, he said.
Iranians all carry an identification card, but citizens are unable to identify as Baha’i without the fear of persecution, said Kolins, who is a Baha’i and a member of the UNC group.
In response to the government’s denial of education to the Baha’i, an underground school was founded: the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education.
The institute provides online classes for Baha’i students. Lessons are conducted through Skype or other media by accredited professors.
UNC campaign leaders are working with the Friday Center to open UNC online classes to students at the Baha’i institute in Iran and will raise money for the project by selling T-shirts.
They are also asking professors to write letters to UNC’s admissions office to accept course credit from Baha’i institute classes to make it easier for the graduates seeking higher education abroad.
Danielle Rogers, a Baha’i graduate student at UNC and the leader of the University’s branch of the Education Under Fire campaign, said the campaign is about empowerment.
“It’s been such a fruitful collaboration,” she said. “We are undergrads, graduates, staff and faculty — and we’ve all been empowered to reach out.”
The group has been working to get students and other supporters to sign an online petition, which will be sent to Iranian officials.
The petition, which can be signed at educationunderfire.com, supports Baha’i education rights in Iran and urges the government to release educators who are currently imprisoned.
Campaign leaders hope to have 25,000 people sign the petition by May 21 — one year after the Iranian government raided Baha’i homes and arrested Baha’i institute professors. The petition currently has more than 18,400 signatures.
“The Iranian government and people care about how they are perceived, especially by academics, across the world,” said Mark Derewicz, a Baha’i and UNC staff member.
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