Standing on the edge of Memorial Mall, a woman broke into tears while raising a pair of scissors. As she began to cut her hair, a crowd of 30 protesters around her chanted “say her name,” while she let her hair fall to the ground.
Negin Hosseini Goodrich, a lecturer at Purdue, was a journalist for 20 years in Iran before leaving the country due to the hostility shown towards journalists by the Iranian government. The lecturer cut her hair in protest of the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who was allegedly killed by Iran’s morality police, an Iranian police force which enforces Islamic religious observances and morals.
“This is a protest to remember the name of a victim,” Goodrich said. “One of the many thousands of victims being killed only because (they) wanted to have freedom. Iranians are tired of this imposition of (inhumane) human rights rules.”
The young woman died shortly after being detained by the morality police and receiving multiple blows to the head, NPR reported. It is believed she was detained for having improperly worn her hijab.
Amini’s death has led to an outbreak of protests in Iran, many of which are turning violent with police and protestors clashing in the streets. On Friday, the protests came to Purdue, with students and professors marching side-by-side in solidarity.
“It’s heartwarming to see this support because honestly, I didn’t think that we were going to have more than a few supporters today,” Goodrich said. “But now you see that they’re getting bigger and bigger.”
The crowd grew to the extent that they took up the entire width of Centennial Mall. As the crowd marched through Centennial Mall all the way to Stadium Mall, students could be found glancing over at the group, with some joining in on the march.
Members of the Puerto Rican Student Association who were collecting donations for hurricane relief efforts chanted with the protestors as they walked past. At one point, an older woman and her daughter clapped for the protesters as they marched.
“This is what Islamic regime is afraid of, they don’t want people to get connected,” Goodrich said. “They don’t want other countries to understand and learn what’s going on in (Iran).”
Goodrich held her tuft of hair high, leading the protesters along with Mati Mohammadi, a doctoral candidate in the College of Agriculture.
Mohammadi said the protest had no single leader or organization, and instead grew from the local Iranian community reaching out to each other over the issue.
Mohammadi also stated that Iranian-Americans often don’t feel heard when it comes to their rights.
“Sometimes I ask why people don’t seem to hear us,” Mohammadi said. “Is it because we are in the Middle East? Is it because we’re not white? We want people to see us.”
After Goodrich cut her hair, Mohammadi rushed over and gave the former journalist a hug. Both had tears in their eyes. This touching scene had a similar impact on other members of the audience.
“The feeling I got was sadness,” Purdue alumnus Harlan Day said, “because they know their country could be so much more. I empathize with them.”
When Day motioned for his wife, Heather Day, to speak, she nodded in agreement, tears welling in her eyes.
Several of the activists even stopped students walking by to inform them about the protest and the death of Amini, asking them to share #MahsaAmini on social media to spread the cause.
“The feeling I got from this protest is camaraderie,” Lafayette resident Justin Bougher said. “People have boots on their necks in Ukraine, Belarus and all over the world. Just like Iran.
“This is all the same fight. We need to have solidarity together.”
The protest ended in front of Centennial Mall, where the group had started, but by then the mood had changed. Activists hugged each other and thanked the people who marched with them, capping it off by chanting Amini’s name one last time.
“I felt heard today. I have some anger, but that allows me to feel hope,” Mohammadi said.