Sanaz Raji: a voice for the voiceless in the British academia
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The fear of deportation, as pointed out recently in a Guardian article by an international student, often puts off overseas students from political campaigning or participating in protests. Despite the plethora of issues concerning them, international students have to think twice before raising their voice, expressed the writer. However, Sanaz Raji, is an example of someone who despite facing the limitations of being an international student, leads the campaign ‘Justice4Sanaz’, intended to expose the “deep-seated racism” in UK universities and bring her “justice” in her on-going legal dispute with the University of Leeds. Iranian born and living in the United States, Sanaz Raji, has been leading a vocal attack against the supervisors in her department at the University of Leeds, who she accuses of being racist and biased during her studies at the institution. After gaining a scholarship from the university’s Institute of Communication Studies, Sanaz made a head start in her PhD programme with the intention to carry out research under her proposed supervisor. However, she was assigned another supervisor, who she feels, did not have the requisite knowledge in her field. “After three months or so I did make my initial reservations known to the research post-graduate tutor in the department, but my requests were rubbished and completely and utterly dismissed.” In the meantime, she continued with her work despite suffering an ankle fracture and being under a lot of emotional stress. “My supervisors did not give me adequate supervision I think because I had made it very well known that I wasn’t happy with the kind of supervision I was receiving and they felt offended and didn’t like that a person of colour was complaining. They were angry with that,” she says. Following this, one day her scholarship was unexpectedly revoked by the department, for the reason of “insufficient academic progress”. “In the course of my second year, my progress was not considered an issue as such. In my supervision notes no one raised any issues. However if there were issues with my progress then it should have been raised earlier or consistently but that was never the case,” she says emphatically. She was also thrown out of her student accommodation without any prior notice. Then she appealed through the university’s internal procedures, who kept her waiting for a year and in the end dismissed her allegations. “In April 2013, once I received a decision, I went public and put together a petition, which received over a thousand signatures. I contacted the media, student groups and as many people as I could.” Sanaz believed the “injustice and prejudice” she had suffered needed to be in the public domain and this is how her activist side was born. “No one ends up becoming an activist overnight. It has to be some sort of an issue or cause that they have felt dearly or have struggled with or seen other individuals struggling with,” says Sanaz Raji. Now she organizes demonstrations and speaks vociferously about the concerns of non-EU international and BME students through her blog and at relevant events.
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