College to start offering Persian classes

USC and the Farhang Foundation recently announced a collaborative project to launch the school’s first Iranian Studies Initiative, which will bring Persian language classes to the College of Arts, Letters & Sciences and will allow students to minor in Iranian Studies.

“The details of exactly what courses will be offered and how quickly Persian studies will grow on campus has not been fully worked out,” Michael Quick, executive vice dean of the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, wrote in an e-mail.

The Farhang Foundation, established in 2008 in Los Angeles, is a non-profit organization that seeks to celebrate and promote the study and research of Iranian art, culture and history for the benefit of the community at large, according to its website.

The Iranian Studies Initiative began when the Farhang Foundation contacted USC and offered the university the opportunity to bring an Iranian studies program to the college, Quick said. The idea came from a convergence of three different factors: USC faculty research about the Middle East, student interest in the Middle East and Persian and Arabic languages, and USC’s budding relationship with the Farhang Foundation.

“One of the reasons people came to us, Farhang in particular, is because they knew we cared about this,” said Bruce Zuckerman, professor of religion and linguistics.

Zuckerman said that he has been helping with this initiative in any way possible. He added that he hopes this initiative will go beyond just language classes and to will examine the culture and influence of Iranian culture.

“Languages are a great place to start because if you want to understand a culture, you can’t understand it in translation. You have to begin by understanding the language,” Zuckerman said.

Aside from including faculty in the initiative, the Farhang Foundation has also worked closely with the Iranian Graduate Students Association to help promote the initiative and spread awareness, said Yalda Khashe, a graduate student studying industrial and system engineering and member of the IGSA.

“I want this initiative to last and I hope people will react and take the classes. I want people to give it a chance and that non-Persians will attend the courses to find out about this culture,” Khashe said. “There are a lot of misconceptions about this culture around the world.”

Kevin van Bladel, an associate professor of classics who has also been involved in the initiative, attributes some of the push for Iranian studies courses to students realizing that knowing about Iran could be very important for their careers.

“It’s a region of the world that Americans don’t understand enough and the more courses we can offer in that, the better,” van Bladel said. “We want to build a bridge of understanding and we want to make it possible for students to listen to the world and listen to the languages the world speaks.”

Although the specific details of the initiative have yet to be established, Zuckerman said it should not take long for Farsi language classes to be offered to students because university officials realize the importance of building up a program of this nature.

“If you’re going to be world-class university that engages issues of world importance, Iran, modern, and Persian, ancient, and all that comes in between are things that we can’t ignore,” Zuckerman said.

Alia Delpassand, a junior majoring in political science, said she was sho cked when she first came to the university and found out Farsi was not taught. She added that she hopes this initiative will help students gain a better understanding of the Iranian culture.

“Unfortunately, within the media today, Iran is not depicted in a positive light — many associate Iran with anti-Semitism and [Iranian] President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. People do not recognize the deep-rooted Persian culture that has substantially impacted civilization today,” Delpassand said. “Having a program like this will definitely be a step toward shrinking the gap of hostility between Iran and the United States.”