Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies hopes to expand with $1 million donation

An SF State alumna, Neda Nobari, recently donated $1 million for new fellowships and grants at the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies for student and faculty initiatives, expanding on a previous $5 million donation she made to establish the center in June 2016.

Unlike other similar programs that focus on Iranian culture or history, SF State’s Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies is the first to emphasize the cultural exchange Iranians are a part of when in diaspora — living outside of Iran. Persis Karim, the chair and director of the center since 2017, hopes to build a field of study and expand a community around shared experiences and knowledge of the Iranian American community.

Nobari graduated in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Many Iranians like Nobari came to California for a university education, and an additional surge of immigrants joined them in the U.S. after the 1979 revolution.

California has the highest concentration of Iranians outside of Iran, with 49% of all Iranians in diaspora living in California. Karim estimates the Bay Area is home to more than 100,000 people of Iranian descent.

“My vision for this center is to support new research and scholarship by San Francisco State students and San Francisco State faculty,” Karim said. “This gift Neda Nobari made, $1 million, is really a commitment on her part to expand a field that is quite new and quite unrecognized still.” 

Though it’s possible to trace the recent history of Iranian immigration to America, Karim believes in the power of storytelling. By focusing on the narratives of Iranian Americans in diaspora, her vision for the center is to expand academic research and connect personal stories to counter political tensions. 

Nobari’s donation will create opportunities for students and faculty to initiate research projects and share their work with students and the academic community at large. Karim said she hopes these fellowships will provide opportunities to learn and share about Iranian diaspora studies. 

“I think it is important because there is a center that is capturing the essence of being Iranian American and how we’re contributing as part of the society,” said Shahriyar Najafgholizadeh, a communication major and intern for the center who was born and raised in Iran. He said the center feels like home.

The donation will go toward:  

  • Iman Nobari Post-Doctoral Fellowship: This fellowship will be established within the next year and a half, in collaboration with other departments to invite a recent Ph.D graduate from outside SF State to share their research and projects.
  • Azar Hatefi Graduate Student Fellowships: This will support two annual fellowships starting in 2020 for graduate students to research an aspect of Iranian diaspora studies. 
  • The Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies Faculty Research Grants: This will be for SF State faculty to introduce Iranian diaspora studies into their curriculum, and encourage faculty research. An advisory committee of SF State faculty will review submissions for awards later this semester. 
  • Undergraduate scholarships for students to work with a faculty member on a research project related to Iranian diaspora studies. 

The current focus of the center is to create exposure and expand the field with research and  interdisciplinary studies. Below are some past events and current projects of the center:  

  • “Forty Years & More”: An international conference at SF State on Iranian Diaspora Studies which took place March 29-30. The multi-day conference included an art show  at the Minnesota Street Project “Once at Present,” featuring Iranian and Iranian American artists. 
  • “We Are Here, We’ve Always Been Here”: A collaboration between the Documentary Film Institute and Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies. The documentary is an ongoing effort and plans to feature four generations of Iranians in the Bay Area.
  • Another public history project the center is working on is a pilot digital archive of Iranian Americans in Northern California.
  • The center also puts on semi-regular events and discussions between professors of varying departments on current issues, mainly focusing on Iranian-U.S. relations.
  • Tea Thursdays: Every two weeks people from school or community members can come to the center and enjoy tea along social gathering time. 

The Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies is in room 503 in the Humanities Building, open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and by appointment. 

Participants from the “40 Years & More” conference curated a list available online that has films, art, articles and books about, for and by the Iranian diaspora. https://ids.sfsu.edu/content/bibliography

The center is co-sponsoring an artistic performance Nov. 16 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Lisser Hall at Mills College in Oakland. “Nuance: An Immigration Story” features Iranian dancer choreographer Aisan Hoss in collaboration with Egyptian musician Basma Edrees exploring through music and dance their immigration stories to the U.S. 

https://ids.sfsu.edu/events/2019/11/16/795-nuance-immigration-story