Holdgruen: UMass Amherst policy targets, alienates Iranian students

At a public college where science fields are highly rated, sought-after and respected, it is any wonder why other institutions would prevent diligent students from furthering their science education and acquiring higher knowledge. The only answer could be that these institutions are plagued by ignorant, racist and Islamophobic ideals.

The University of Massachusetts, Amherst recently announced a ban on Iranian national students from physics, engineering and other science graduate programs. The ban—which has now been rescinded with some conditions—originated from the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012.

UMass Amherst released a statement explaining the law “requires that the [United States] Department of State deny visas to Iranian students wishing to engage in certain fields of study related to the energy sector, nuclear science, nuclear engineering or a related field at U.S. colleges and universities.” The fear is that the graduate students may violate U.S. sanctions against Iran—that is, use their degrees and knowledge to create nuclear weapons in the country.

After public backlash, UMass Amherst overturned the ban and announced that individualized study plans for Iranian students will be created in order to comply with the federal law without completely excluding them from programs. Ultimately, Iranian students will be treated differently than the rest of the school’s students. The individualized study plans alienate them and imply that they may become dangerous with further education.

An Iranian-American graduate of UMass Amherst said to NBC News, “We always felt like an integral part of the university community. Now we’re just kind of confused.” Iranian students should not be treated as potential terrorists in an environment that is supposed to encourage, support and educate them.

It is understood that federal laws are put in place to protect our country and prevent future U.S.-Iranian conflicts. These laws make it less likely that potentially dangerous individuals would attend American schools anyway.

But the plan for Iranian students to be treated differently is shrouded in discrimination. If dangerous individuals avoid the school, the rest of the hardworking Iranian students will still suffer underneath the different conditions. It is unjust for a group of minority students to receive a censored education when their white American classmates do not. There should be equal education opportunities for all students, regardless of their country of origin.

A law that prevents already-suspicious, problematic persons in the country from obtaining engineering knowledge is a more beneficial and organized system than one that affects and alienates innocent college students. While it is not easy to determine who is a dangerous individual and who is not, implementing policy over an entire group of students is prejudiced and excessive.

America’s institutionalized inequality and discrimination against minorities is, unfortunately, nothing new. Muslims have many reasons to distrust American society, especially with the increased Islamophobia after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the targeting of certain groups of students from certain countries should not become another reason.

The number of engineering students increases every year and science fields have become more important and popular among students. By limiting Iranian students in these fields based on America’s ignorant fears, we may be imposing limits on future scientists who have the potential to accomplish significant, progressive research for society.