Fliers advertising a women's seminar in Islamic studies and the Persian studies program at San Jose State University are being systematically removed and defaced on campus.
This summer, Professor Shahin Gerami began posting three fliers promoting her course Gender & Sexuality in Islamic Perspectives Persian studies' fall events and courses, and a general education women's studies course.
"Only the posters for Persian studies have been defaced, vandalized or torn," said Gerami, who teaches in the department of interdisciplinary social sciences and is the coordinator of the women's studies program. "The ones for the GE women's course were left untouched."
Giant Xs streak across the fliers, and mustaches are drawn on the veiled women pictured.
She said at least 100 fliers that she and her student assistant posted on campus are missing. The fliers have also been consistently removed from her office door. "I've put up a new one, and it was taken down overnight," she said.
Ritu Srivastava and Ume Naqvi, student assistants to Persian studies director, Professor Persis Karim, also posted the fliers advertising the Persian studies program. A few days after school started, Srivastava sent a text message to Naqvi, saying she had a "weird observation." She wrote that all the fliers she had posted were gone and that not a single one was left, adding that it seemed deliberate.
Naqvi had noticed that the fliers she posted had been taken down by the first day of school as well. They posted 70 total.
"It is not a random act; it is a targeted act," Gerami said. "It is against open dialogue. They want to quiet some voices, and they want to target people with different opinions."
The mission of the Persian studies program, of which Gerami is a director, is to educate and promote Iranian culture and the Persian language. A $300,000 grant from the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute and a $200,000 grant from a Persian community foundation known as PARSA have been funding the program.
Almost 90 percent of Americans view Iran unfavorably, according to a Gallup Poll released in March 2013, making it the lowest-rated country out of the 22 listed.
On behalf of Gerami and Karim, the SJSU Survey and Policy Research Institute assessed in 2012 an interest in having a Persian studies program. The survey also asked about media portrayals and stereotypes of Iranians.
Seventy-six percent of respondents said that Iranians are negatively portrayed in American media. When asked of specific stereotypes noticed in the media, respondents said Iranians are most often shown as enemies of the U.S. (72 percent), anti-Israel (58 percent) and dangerous (56 percent).
"Negative reaction (on campus) has been subtle before," Gerami said. "There's no subtlety about this kind of behavior."
Naqvi said she noticed that some Persian studies fliers had been removed last semester but thought little of it because most were after the date of the advertised event.
"I'm not a conspiracist, but it's a little interesting that in a couple of different buildings, posters have been taken down," she said, adding that they have been conscious of placing fliers in places where it is allowed. "School is for learning and broadening horizons."
Fliers for the student organization Queer and Asian were being removed last semester, but it is not clear whether they were targeted, said Bonnie Sugiyama, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center and the Women's Resource Center.
"There were not any messages written on the fliers that would denote a hate-motivated act," she said, adding that the incident was not reported to the Provost or Student Conduct and Ethical Development.
Student members re-posted the fliers, instead stapling the corners and center to deter removal.
According to Academic Senate policy S12-6 for advertising events on campus, the removal of postings by anyone other than the posting party or authorized university personnel is prohibited unless the posting "has been posted for seven calendar days, announces an event which has passed, is larger than 11" x 17", or is duplicated on the same bulletin board."
The same policy states that free speech for content aligned with the university is to be respected in advertisements and that the CA Education Code 66607 regulates political advertising, which is described in the California State University's Handbook of Elections.
Staci Gunner, director of Student Conduct and Ethical Development, said that she has heard of fliers advertising controversial topics being vandalized or removed before and that disciplinary action happens on a case-by-case basis.
Sgt. John Laws of UPD said that no hate crimes associated with the university or student groups had been reported in the last year and that UPD is able to investigate issues such as this.
Gerami sees the removal and defacement of her fliers as a disservice to students, denying them a chance to bring more facts and diversity to campus and to show Iran in a different light than how the media portrays it.
"The one-dimensional picture we usually see of Iran is easy to catch," Gerami said. "That is the purpose of a college education – to see beyond the headlines."