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St. Francis professor with a global perspective elected chair of Amnesty International USA

September 29, 2020 Raanan Geberer

A St. Francis College professor who was forced to leave his country of origin because he was reading books critical of its regime has been elected chair of Amnesty International USA, the domestic arm of a worldwide non-partisan human rights organization.

Moreover, just as Amnesty International has a global perspective, Professor Reza Fakhari is the Downtown Brooklyn school’s vice president for internationalization and strategic initiatives. He seeks to raise the college’s profile internationally and give students a global perspective.

While Fakhari teaches one class per semester (this semester it’s a course in politics, which he’s co-teaching with St. Francis President Miguel Martinez-Saenz), he focuses on his role as vice president. “We’re recruiting more and more students internationally, giving more opportunities for students to go abroad. We also have partnerships with colleges in Europe, in Latin America, in Asia,” he says.

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Dr. Fakhari was made to leave Iran at age 18, under the rule of the Shah, because he was reading books on political prisoners. He became aware of Amnesty International because the group was exposing the repression in that country and was defending political prisoners.

In the U.S., Fakhari gained a PhD in international relations at the New School and began teaching at LaGuardia Community College in 1980, eventually becoming director of international studies and then a dean. He then went to Kingsborough Community College in southeast Brooklyn in 2005, where he rose from associate dean to vice president. He was recruited by St. Francis College in 2018.

Relating his position at St. Francis to Amnesty International and human rights in general, he says, “At St. Francis College, there are students from more than 70 backgrounds. Some of them are from repressive governments and have memories of dictatorships in their home countries. For every student, educating them about human rights empowers them to make a change.”

As far as the value of an international perspective is concerned, he adds, “In any job in the 21st century, you need a global perspective. [Adding a global perspective] will add value to a St. Francis degree.”

Dr. Fakhari has been involved with Amnesty International for many years, and he started a chapter while at LaGuardia. He also just recently started a chapter at St. Francis itself. He has been on Amnesty International’s board since 2014, holding various positions. This month, he was elected to his position as chair both by the organization’s grassroots membership and by other members of the board.

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Asked about the human rights situation in the world, he said, “There is an erosion of democracy worldwide. There are authoritarian populist leaders in India, Brazil, the U.S., even in Great Britain, and some are curtailing human rights.

“COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on poor communities. We want to see that any response and recovery puts human rights at the center, to help them get back on their feet. We are for ending gun violence in America, and making sure immigrants coming here are not detained in detention centers,” he added.

Dr. Fakhari lives in Downtown Brooklyn, near the approach to the Manhattan Bridge.

“I’m thrilled to see Dr. Fakhari take on this well-deserved leadership role at AIUSA,” said Martinez-Saenz. “His extraordinary track record of human rights activism brings invaluable perspective to our classrooms and to the College’s executive team. His work here ensures we are a global institution in every sense of the word. That is cornerstone to our Franciscan commitment to welcome and dignify all people.”


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