Humans of IAAB: Meet Halleh Hashtpari

By Darya Minovi

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Tell me a little bit about yourself and your work in activism.

My name is Halleh Hashtpari and I was born and raised in the San Jose, CA. My family and I moved to southern California in 2003, and I have been in the greater Los Angeles area since then. I graduated from UCLA in 2012, with a major in Psychobiology and a minor in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, and just completed my Master’s in Clinical Psychology, with a concentration in child and adolescent psychology at California Lutheran University. As I prepare to apply to doctoral programs in clinical and counseling psychology, I am working as a counselor at a residential treatment center for transitional-aged youth with emotional/psychological difficulties, and expanding on research projects I worked on during my studies at CLU. My research focus is primarily on identity development (ethnic and sexual) and acculturation patterns as they relate to psychological well-being. My main population of focus: Iranian Americans of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Our community is almost non-existent in psychological research, and it’s really important for our voices and stories to be heard. That has always been my main involvement in activism. For me, activism was always about advocacy, whether it was something as simple as having a conversation with someone who was uneducated on a particular issue or using the resources I had to put on events advocating for particular under represented populations. I’ve always been about community building, bringing various communities together in allyship. During my final year at UCLA, while I was president of the Iranian Student Group at UCLA, I had the pleasure of co-programming with the Queer Alliance to put on “The Hidden: The Queer Iranian Narrative,” bridging the gaps between the two communities and bringing awareness to the intersection of these two identities. Not only was it important for Iranian students to learn about the queer community, and to hear about the experiences of their queer Iranian peers, but it was also equally important for queer students of other ethnic/racial backgrounds to learn about the Iranian community and the specific experiences of someone who identifies as both Iranian and queer.

What first brought you to becoming involved with IAAB?

I first learned about IAAB and the many great opportunities and resources they offer the diasporic Iranian community during my involvement with the Iranian Student Group (ISG) at UCLA. Many of my university friends and colleagues had participated as camp counselors during IAAB’s annual Summer Leadership Institute, and really encouraged me to get involved. It wasn’t until IAAB’s 5th International Conference on the Iranian Diaspora in 2012 at UCLA where I really got to see first hand how amazing the organization really is. It was at this conference that I got to meet many of the IAAB staff, and we finally connected. I was even granted the opportunity to co-facilitate a workshop on balancing advocacy with cultural programming in Iranian student organizations. After the conference, I was very enthusiastic to get involved, and reached out to IAAB staff right away. As a member of the executive board (VP and president) of ISG from 2010 to 2012, I had developed relationships with other student members or Iranian student organizations at various University of California and California State Universities. Knowing my ties to these different universities, IAAB staff brought me on as part of their Campus Action Network (I-CAN). Through I-CAN we were able to gain widespread support for the inclusion of a Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) race check box on the universal UC application as initiated by students at the UC Berkeley. Students of not only Iranian background, but of all SWANA backgrounds, can now indicate their specific ethnicity(ies) when applying to the University of California. Applications accepted for the fall 2015 incoming class included this new categorization, and I am so incredibly proud of the students at UC Berkeley and at all the UC’s that fought vigorously in their student governments for this initiative to pass. Very exciting! We definitely hope to expand the SWANA check box to more/all university applications.

In what ways did IAAB influence your professional life and decisions you have made as a leader?

As an executive board member of ISG for the last two years I was at UCLA, I was uncertain about whether or not I could use my role as a student leader to advocate for particular issues and communities.  The risk of coming across as too “political” and losing the engagement of our members uninterested in these issues left me with a decision to make about how I chose to run the organization. Thankfully, IAAB taught me to always, and unapologetically, utilize my voice to spark dialogue even when it may be difficult. This mindset I continue to carry with me through both my professional and academic work.

What advice would you lend to other Iranian-American youth who hope to take on a leadership role in their communities?

Be proud! Be compassionate and empathic. Lean on each other for support, and always advocate for what you believe in. Try to be as inclusive of intersectional identities as possible. If you don’t know how to be, then ask. Speak with members from the different communities on how your work can be more inclusive and you can be the best ally to those communities. Don’t just assume you are an ally because you think you are – members from the community must view you as one. And perhaps most importantly, self care. Being a leader, while rewarding, can also be draining. Always make time for yourself to recuperate and rejuvenate your passion.

Where would you like to see the Iranian community in 10 years?

I hope to see the Iranian community more engaged in advocacy and speaking out on issues important to our community and other communities. I have met many who intentionally avoid these issues because they don’t want to cause any discord, but until we do begin to speak out we will not see any change. It is so inspiring to see the upcoming generations of young Iranians absolutely fearless, getting more involved, and taking leadership roles early on. It is these youth that will progress and drive our community in the future.

If your life could have background music, what song would you pick?

It is so difficult to pick just one! My taste in music is very eclectic, and the answer to this question could change on a daily basis. My life, at this point in time, can’t be limited to just one song. I am in a state of transition, growing and discovering so much about myself in this moment and in the future. Everything is constantly changing. My background music is on shuffle, ranging from metal, EDM, classic rock, alternative, hip hop, and of course Iranian music, and I like it that way for now.

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