Farhang Foundation’s Iranian Studies Initiative at USC: Q&A wtih Bita Milanian

By Mahasti Afshar

L-R: Bita Milanian, Haleh Emrani, Ali Razi, Howard Gillman, Ahmad Gramian, David Newman

November 16, 2010, Los Angeles – The University of Southern California (USC) recently announced the launch of an Iranian Studies Initiative sponsored by Farhang Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting Iranian arts and culture in Southern California. Among Farhang’s many popular programs is a Nowruz event hosted at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) that is heralded by a parade of beautiful banners that line Wilshire Boulevard to the delight of all passersby.

Considering the size of the Iranian population in Southern California, the significance of launching this academic initiative at USC is undeniable, which is why we sat down with Bita Milanian, Farhang’s Executive Director, to better understand this program.

What is the Iranian Studies Initiative?

The aim of this initiative is to help start an Iranian Studies program at USC’s College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, the first of its kind at the university.  It consists of two phases: the first will add Persian language courses to the curriculum at USC as early as the fall 2011 semester.  The second phase, which is currently in the planning stages, will allow students to choose a minor with a focus on Iranian Studies.  We are very excited about this project and hope that USC will be the first of many universities where we can help launch similar types of programs.

Bita Milanian

What compelled Farhang Foundation to launch this initiative?

ISI is a logical outcome of Farhang Foundation’s mission to celebrate and promote Iranian art, culture, and heritage for the benefit of the community at large.

We have partnered with and sponsored a variety of programs at LACMA, UCLA, UC Irvine and other cultural and academic institutions in Southern California in support of our mission. So, helping to launch an academic program of this nature at one of the world’s leading private research universities made a great deal of sense to us.

Furthermore, as the Iranian community in Southern California grows, an increasing number of educational opportunities in the areas of Persian and Iranian Studies are needed to help preserve our language, culture, and history for younger generations of Iranian Americans, while creating the opportunity for non-Iranians to gain a deeper understanding of Iran and its culture.

How would you describe USC’s role in this process?

USC was very supportive of this initiative from the outset. We have had the pleasure of working closely with incredible administrators and faculty such as Dean Howard Gillman, Executive Vice Dean, Michael Quick, and Executive Director of Development, Susan Wilcox in the USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, as well as Dr. Kevin Van Bladel, Associate Professor of Classics, and Dr. Bruce Zuckerman, Professor of Religion and Linguistics.

Professor Zuckerman expressed to us his hope that an Iranian Studies Initiative will enlighten students by going beyond the headlines and telling the complete story of Iran. Judging by the quality of the curriculum and professorship that USC is known for, we have no doubt that this initiative has found a great home and will soon be a premier program of its kind.

How did Farhang take this initiative from planning stages to reality?

The first phase of the Iranian Studies program was made possible after many months of hard work, and ultimately through the generous contributions of an enthusiastic group of supporters to whom we are very grateful. But this is just the beginning.  In order to launch the second phase of this initiative to bring a full Iranian Studies Minor program to USC, and ultimately the third phase, which is an Iranian Studies Major, we need to continue our fundraising efforts and are looking forward to the support of the Iranian-American community. All of the funds we raise for the Iranian Studies Initiative at USC will go entirely towards the program and are 100% tax deductible.

While we always welcome contributions to our efforts we also encourage individuals and organizations to look into other ways of contributing to their local communities.

Any final words?

Iranian Studies and other such programs help enrich the educational experiences of all students – Iranians and non-Iranians alike. At Farhang Foundation, we feel this is something that benefits all of us. I encourage everyone to visit www.farhang.org to learn more about the initiative.

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