Travel ban affects UC Irvine conference

The Student Union on the UC Irvine campus.
The Student Union on the UC Irvine campus.
Wesasaurus Rex/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

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Deanna Kashani is excited about taking part in next August’s international Iranian Studies Conference at U.C. Irvine, the campus where she’s earning her PhD. She plans to be on a panel with a couple of Iranian artists and scholars about the vibrant art scene in Tehran.

“Iranian artists have really achieved so much and there is absolutely a very lively art culture, every Friday there are art openings, with lots of traffic, people trying to get from gallery to gallery,” she said.

But conference organizers say stricter US visa enforcement will make it very hard for those Iranians to attend. They believe so because dozens of scholars from Canada, Europe, and Iran have told them the travel ban will keep them from being at the conference.

“We’re having lots of issues and in terms of numbers, we don’t think this will be the biggest attended conference in years,” said Touraj Daryaee, the Director of U.C. Irvine’s Jordan Center for Persian Studies.

Scholars who live in Canada and Europe and who have traveled to Iran, Daryaee said, feel that it’s unlikely that they’ll be granted visas to enter the U.S.

While President Trump has said the travel ban is intended to keep terrorists out of the country, Daryaee and others say the ban and its stricter visa enforcement is dampening the intellectual environment in cities across the country by keeping scholars and their ideas out.

“This is supposed to be an international conference," Daryaee said. "You want to spread the knowledge and really learn from people from around the world...  and of course that has been now altered for the unforeseeable future."

Similar dynamics are driving down attendance for the Middle East Studies Association’s annual meeting in Washington DC next week.

“We already saw a drop in the number of panel applications… we’ve seen a drop in pre-registration,” said Beth Baron, the association’s president.

Her group was one of the groups that filed a legal challenge against President Trump’s travel ban.

Baron said the ban is not the way to smooth out conflict between the U.S. and Iranian governments.

“Cutting off communication with a country is not the way to learn more about the country, to promote a free exchange of ideas, to promote peace,” she said.

Baron and Daryaee said they’ll use technology to connect those who can’t attend but that’s no replacement for in person interaction and networking.