Mehdi Zeyghami, a USF Ph.D student, is stuck in Iran.
Zeyghami’s status is due to an executive order President Donald Trump issued that blocks travel from several countries, including Iran, in an effort to keep out possible terrorists. While the ban is under scrutiny, Zeyghami remains in Iran, his USF accounts frozen and his Ph.D on hold, according to reports by the Tampa Bay Times.
In response to Zeyghami’s situation, the travel ban, and in effort to make USF a sanctuary campus, protesters from Students for Democratic Society (SDS) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) gathered at MLK Plaza on Tuesday at 12 p.m., signs in hand and megaphone ready.
The small crowd of students set up around the bust of MLK in the plaza and held up a large blue banner reading “Sanctuary for All.” Others gathered around to hold up signs such as one reading “Stop the heartbreak, bring Mehdi home.”
SDS member and junior in biomedical sciences Michael Said handed out fliers to passing students and asked them to get involved in the protest. Watching from a short distance away were officers from University Police (UP) and Dean of Students Danielle McDonald.
One of the officers from UP was Sgt. Frank Wassenberg, who said UP had learned about the event in advance and the officers were stationed there. He said it had nothing to do with arrests made at previous SDS demonstrations.
McDonald said she didn’t have any comments on the protest.
Beyond calling attention to displaced students or the ban overall, the protest was about making USF a sanctuary campus, according to Ennya Blaise, member of SDS and a sophomore majoring in sociology and women and gender studies.
“That is our long-term goal,” Blaise said.
Sanctuary campuses, similar to sanctuary cities, refuse to persecute undocumented immigrants and ensure they have equal access to services.
This sanctuary campus status is important because of USF’s large and diverse international student population, Blaise said. She said the ban impacts those students.
“People are directly affected by (the travel ban) and the university should protect its students,” she said.
As far as the results SDS is looking for, Blaise said the desire is for USF to take action instead of making statements she said she feels are baseless.
“In this case, actions speak louder than words,” Blaise said.
One protester with SDS, Danya Zituni, alumna ’16, said the protest was about USF needing to support Zeyghami and the effort to declare USF a sanctuary campus.
“It is the very least they can do to make sure all students regardless of nationality receive an education,” Zituni said.
SJP Vice President, SDS member and senior in creative writing Rahma Elmohd said SJP’s involvement had to do with the members’ first-hand experience with seeing colonization creating refugees that are refused by the countries who created them. She said she thinks USF becoming a sanctuary campus will help create an environment where all students are welcome.
The reception of the protest was not entirely positive. Many students simply walked by, something Blaise made known using the megaphone. She said to those students simply walking by and nodding, they weren’t really doing much to help.
The protest lasted just over an hour. Close to the beginning of the protest, when the chanting began, one male student walked by and said a chant over the top of the protesters, one made up of mostly foul language. Another student got into a heated discussion with a protester that was talking with a passerby. The situation dissipated as officers moved closer to the arguing students.
One passing student made a complaint about how there seemed to be another protest on campus every week.