From words to transformative action

Lucy Avraamidou is a new columnist for UKrant. Every two weeks, she writes about things at the university that amaze her (English only). This is her first contribution.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Tehran following the death of a young woman who died in custody after her detainment by the religious morality police for not properly wearing her hijab. I am watching the protests from my comfortable sling couch as I drink my green tea. The contrast is surreal.

My heart beats to the chant of the protestors in love, in anger, and solidarity: woman, life, freedom. I am reminded that freedom is not granted and never free and that in some parts of the world it costs lives. 

Mahsa Amini is the name of the young woman who died on September 16. Three days later she would have turned 23. Mahsa was not very different from most women of her age in Europe. She had just been admitted to the university to study law. When I saw a video of her in a beautiful red dress dancing to music very familiar to my ears, it reminded me of my childhood in Cyprus, home for many Iranians with whom we would sing songs about freedom as we tasted the same food and claimed it as our own.

As I am watching this, I can’t help but think: what can I do to support this movement? I have been waiting to hear about the university’s position for a couple of weeks now. I finally came across the university’s statement: ‘We are deeply concerned about the situation in Iran’, it says, and help is offered through the student center, managers, etcetera. 

I feel frustrated, because the university’s statement is more words than a plan for action for the people in Iran fighting for their freedom 

I find this solidarity statement important, because it makes the university’s position and values known. Maybe I should be happy that my university does make a statement. But I actually feel more frustrated, because the statement is more words than a plan for action for the people in Iran fighting for their freedom. 

Is education ever neutral, objective, asocial, and apolitical? And if it is, then what and why do we teach? What do we teach when we teach about human rights, history, religion, cultures, and feminism? Why do we teach if not to change the world? 

There is no ‘situation’ in Iran. There is a revolution in the making and choosing to remain idle is not an option for me, as someone interested in the role of science and education for social change and justice.

Have I scrapped my lessons to engage in conversations with my students about this revolution? Not as much as I would have liked to. How many talks, events and protests have I attended in the past few weeks? Not as many as I would have liked to. Have I actively shown solidarity to my Iranian colleagues and students? I tried. How can I help students in Iran access higher education and researchers continue their work? A set of concrete steps by the university would be useful. 

Protesters in Iran have made it loud and clear that they are not in need of Western saviors, but they need to know that we are standing with them. Can we do better than simply issuing solidarity statements? Can we move from words to transformative action?




  1. Dear Lucy! How wonderful to see that you use your scholarly time and knowledge for the university paper. Very meaningful to read about your reflections on the Iranian protesters! Thank you for that and I’m looking forward to read more. I will use your reflections to open dialogue about transformative actions with my colleagues.

  2. @ Dirk-Jan en Laurent,
    I totaly agree with your reactions.
    @ Lucy, good luck with your column and don’t lose heart and hope!
    Margriet Geers

  3. Dear Lucy,

    What (moral) obligation has the university to say something about current world events? Which ones exactly?
    You are clearly unhappy with the university’s message, thats ok. Why would protesters in Iran care about whatthe RUG has to say about it? They got better things to do, I assume.
    We continue: are you also unhappy about your neighbours message? Has the city of Groningen said something yet? Are you happy about your own message? Is it transformative enough? Why do you need these protesters to know you that you support them? Who is there to gain from them knowing? Much questions.

    To me you seem high-maintance. And tiring. The protesters know this as well. According to you, they already made it clear: they don’t want your transformative action.

    • Dear Asklepios
      thanks for engaging with my piece and for raising additional important questions! I am with you on this one: what current world events do we choose to support and what do we not?

  4. Perhaps you should consider going into politics, rather than using our beautiful institution as a vehicle to promote political views. Politics and science stand in stark contrast with each other; science cares about generating reliable information about how the world works. Politicians represent different worldviews and propose policies. There is nothing scientific about that, nor should that per se be the case.
    Universities should not mingle with politics, otherwise our core business becomes increasingly subject to societal demands, which means our process of scientific inquiry may become dependent on “favorable” worldviews (whatever thoes might be). The process of scientific discovery should not be dependent on what’s fashionable, but be as “pure” as humanly possible.

    So if you want transformative action, you could consider (one of) the following: become a politician, work for an NGO, start your own company, and so forth. But please leave our institution of scientific discovery out of these political endeavours. Taking political sides is by definition exclusive and does not add to generating reliable knowledge. Intertwining academia and politics interferes with the whole essence of the scientific method!

      • The linked article is quite racist in the sense that the writer identifies himself first and foremost as black and disabled, and due to these immutable characteristics he is somehow more qualified to be moral than others? If the writers fundamental assumptions on morality are this racist, nothing he derives can be logically sound.

      • @Dirk-Jan. Thanks for the link. I will however insist that proper science is not political. The argument and examples raised by the author of that article actually prove my statement that we should refrain from politicizing the practice of science as much as possible. While biases can never be fully overcome – we are human after all – we should strive to minimize politics within science. Hence, vocal statements from our faculties or board of the university regarding political matters do not help at all.

        Finally, J Flowers employs peculiar forms of reasoning which are not completely sound and actually fails to – without reasonable doubt – fully support the notion that the practice of science is political. The fact that certain (parts of) knowledge are/were used to deliver evil or good does not mean that the process of scientific discovery itself is political. It can be – but it needn’t be. The same goes for ethical and normative components related to researchers’ method of working. Ascribing meaning or value to how the output of research is used – or whether or not you believe the data gathering mechanisms were ethical or not – does not make science political.

    • Dear anonymous colleague – normally I refrain from engaging online with anonymous individuals like you, but your comment is so full of hostility and naivety that I don’t even know where to start.

      This is a new columnist – a scientist, a colleague, your colleague, my colleague, a fellow human being – writing a heartfelt call for action on a public platform and your first reaction is to tell her she is not welcome here? That she needs to leave your beautiful institution and don’t come back? In what world is this a normal response?

      Besides the horribly naive take that there is such a thing as science without politics, since when is a call for solidarity for people who fight for basic human rights ‘promoting political views’ or ‘fashionable’? Perhaps you should expand your worldview a bit and read up on how universities – students AND faculty – often have been in the center of societal change all around the world, like how Iranian universities are currently at the forefront in fighting against the oppressors too. Or perhaps read about Chilean protests ten years ago, Indonesian protests twenty years ago or even further back to French and German protests in the sixties. Or perhaps these universities are not ‘pure’ enough for you?

      @Lucy, I don’t know you, but thank you for this column, I look forward to your future writings here!

      • @Laurent, I think you are reading a little too much in between the lines of my comment. I don’t want Lucy to leave the university or stop writing columns. I’m urging her to not expect transformative action from our wonderful institution. Politics and worldviews make things messy, so let’s stay away from them as much as possible. Outside of our jobs as scientists, we can express our ethical and moral values. Academia weathered the storm of interference by the Catholic church many centuries ago, let’s not get into such a situation ever again. (Note that, if we as academics start becoming activistic, we are opening the doors for new “churches” or other groups/institutions to project their dogmas onto us!).

    • Dear anonymous ‘collega’: I will engage in a “pure” dialogue with you only after you include your name.
      As for the career advice: no :)

    • Dear anonymous ‘collega’: I will engage in a “pure” dialogue with you only after you include your name.
      As for the career advice: no :)


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