Asal Mohamadi Johnson, PhD, born in Tehran and raised in postrevolutionary Iran, will be celebrating the Persian New Year on March 21, just like she does every year.

This year, however, there’s a twist: Johnson, an associate professor and director of the public health program at Stetson University, is using the occasion to call attention to the plight in Iran, and she is involving her students and others on the Stetson campus as a teaching lesson.

Stetson’s Persian New Year celebration has been themed “Women, life, freedom.”

Surrounding communities are invited to participate, as are media and others, on the Stetson campus Tuesday, March 21, 5-6 p.m. The event will be held on the Stetson Green.

In addition, Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, from Orlando, will serve as the keynote speaker by sending a video message from Tallahassee, where the Florida Legislature is in session. Eskamani is the first Iranian American in the state’s legislature.

“It’s a very different New Year for a lot of people. So many people are in prisons and, of course, so many families are mourning the loss of their loved ones,” said Johnson, citing that more than 500 people have been killed by the Iranian government in recent months, including four people who were publicly executed.

“Iranians always celebrate Persian New Year, even in the worst times. The whole nation right now has a lot of pain for what’s happening. I wanted to do something to raise awareness, especially among non-Iranians.”

In addition, the theme encompasses the plight of schoolgirls in Iran, who have been subjected to mass poisoning.

As part of the event, Johnson’s students in her Global Health class will display a collection of at least 46 photos of victims killed in Iran under age 18, including their names, along with photos of the four people executed (aged in their early 20s) and other victims. Banners and candles will also be displayed, accompanied by revolutionary music commonly heard in Iranian protests. All will be under the theme of “Women, life, freedom.”

Traditionally, in Iran and some surrounding nations — with the Persian New Year not exclusive to Iran — when families lose someone during a year, it becomes their First New Year following that death. Families typically display a photo to commemorate the loss, and they receive visits from friends, neighbors and relatives.

Johnson, who received her master’s degree in urban planning from the School of Fine Arts at Tehran University, hopes her Stetson event represents that tradition. Further, she hopes the event will raise awareness while also helping to teach her students about advocacy for global causes, which is part of their class curriculum.

“Still today,’ Johnson said, “there is an unprecedented attack on university students by Iranian state security forces. The very least we can do during these difficult times is to share their stories and become their voice.”


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