ASU Religious Studies grad student receives advocacy award


Rachel Bunning

Mahshid Zandi, a Religious Studies doctoral student at the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, was recently awarded the Arijit Guha Graduate Student Advocacy Award. The award is given to students who “demonstrate excellence in their advocacy efforts to advance a particular cause.”

Zandi received the award for organizing the Academics United Rally in solidarity with the community of international students affected by the travel ban stated in Executive Order 13769, as well as for advocating international students rights to free movement and academic success. She also worked with the Office of the Provost and other university offices so the university would take a public stance and convey its extensive support to affected students.

Zandi answered a few questions about the award and her advocacy on campus.

How is this award important to you?

It was very heartwarming that my efforts for bringing the concerns and issues of the international community affected by the Muslim-ban have come to the attention of administrations and faculty members.

How does winning this award help you move towards your goals?

It was very encouraging and I realized that when I see discrimination, I shouldn't remain silent and do nothing. I'm happy that, even as an individual, I have tried my best to demand support and action from the university administration. I received great support from faculty members and university offices and I am committed to supporting affected students and making sure they are heard and their issues are addressed.

Can you tell us a little more about the Academics United Rally?

The Academics United rally was held on numerous campuses across the nation. I was in touch with a large group of graduate students who organized the rally. Without these networks, it would have been impossible to organize a rally only two weeks after the first Executive Order. Most of these students were Iranians affected by the ban. The rally was successful in meeting its goals which was to open up the conversation about the consequences of such ban not just on particular affected individuals by the ban but about the morality of targeting a population based on their birthplace and religion. It was very beautiful to see faculty and students' support of the international community and it connected me with people who were willing to follow up on the issue and take further action.

The Arijit Guha Graduate Student Advocacy Award is in memory of an ASU graduate student, Arijit Guha, who was taken by colon cancer. Arijit brought attention to the issue of coverage caps in student health care through his Poopstrong campaign. He raised over $100,000 for his treatment through this viral grassroots effort which was led by graduate students at ASU. Upon finding the coverage he needed for his treatment, he donated thousands of dollars to local nonprofits and research centers dedicated to fighting cancer.

The award provides two monetary awards to students enrolled in a graduate or professional program who demonstrate excellence in their advocacy efforts to advance a particular cause. These causes can include advocacy for, hunger, poverty, student debt, education, research funding, open education, human rights, immigrant rights, peace, etc.

Zandi's dedication to the international student community at ASU demonstrates the kind of leadership in the cultural and social health of students that the university looks to support.