Public Health Students

Far from home, but never far from her thoughts

6,829 miles from Iran, Mandana Masoumirad finds her voice

Mandana Masoumirad talking with interviewer

By Kathryn Stroppel

Mandana Masoumirad was a child of just 7 when she first saw Islamic regime guards attack unarmed citizens while playing in a Tehran park with her mother. Since then, the 30-year-old has witnessed a string of protests and violence, including the Green Movement protest of 2009, which involved more than 3 million peaceful protestors, as well as a series of clashes starting in 2019 in response to a sharp increase in fuel prices and dissatisfaction over economic hardships, the government, human rights violations and more. 

Many Americans are seeing that violence, sparked by the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September 2022, play out on TVs and smartphones, despite the regime’s crack down on protestors and restrictions placed on the internet and messaging apps. 

“Mahsa Amini’s name has become the code word for resistance, and the people of Iran are voicing their rage and anger toward the 43-year rule of the Islamic regime, which has no means of survival other than violence, persecution, oppression, murder and corruption,” she says. 

Sitting with Mandana, whose brown eyes never quite meet your own, twisting a Kleenex in her hands, and occasionally touching her new wedding ring, makes the situation real in a way that technology cannot and serves as an unwitting reminder of the different paths our lives could take based on the location of our birth. 

She recounts stories of men and women being beaten and shot or indefinitely held in detention and laments that she can’t see her sister in Canada because of visa limitations, nor talk with her parents for more than a minute of two before losing an internet connection. Mandana has never attended a protest – she saw her first at 17 and left Iran at 25 – but still has nightmares of being chased by guards. 

Before she left the country, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics in Tehran, but knew there would be limitations on what she could achieve. “I would not have a good life if I stayed.”  

All students bring baggage to college, literal and figurative, and Mandana’s is filled with both sorrow and hope.  

She made the transition from economics to public health in 2020, studying for two years at the University of Washington, and is now a third-year PhD student in public health policy working with Professor and Associate Dean for Research Marie Harvey.  

“Mandana is intelligent, creative, responsible, reliable and one of the best students I’ve had,” Marie says. “She’s committed to understanding the impact of policy and health care reforms on women of reproductive age, including mental health, and she’s moving into her own and finding her own voice and research path.” 

Mandana likes her research, she says, because she can make a real difference. “I can use what I know about math and economics to help people and have an impact in society that I can see.” 

She knows that no matter how much she feels for the people of Iran, and feels the guilt of not being there, she can’t make a difference in her home country — at least not yet. But that doesn’t mean she can’t use her voice to share stories of oppression and call for change. 

“As an Iranian student studying public health and interested in women’s health issues, I believe I must take action, speak for the Iranian people, strongly condemn the regime’s barbaric actions and stand with the Iranian people who chant on every street, ‘WOMEN, LIFE, LIBERTY.’” 

Mandana won an award at the Oregon Public Health Association’s annual conference in October 2022. Read more about it in Good News.