The University of Massachusetts graduate student who reportedly sparked a controversial — and now-reversed — school policy to bar Iranian students from studying in certain engineering and science programs says she was “heartbroken” when she suddenly wasn’t allowed to continue her research.
In a new interview with NBC News, former UMass graduate student Zahra Khalkhali said the university dropped its sponsorship of her in January, during a routine immigration check into her research while she was visiting family back home in Iran.
Khalkhali was a second-year doctoral student in UMass’ Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, conducting research “on fuel cells used to produce clean energy,” according to NBC News — describing her as “an accidental victim of diplomatic red tape.”
UMass first announced the policy banning Iranian graduate students on Feb. 12. The school defended its ban by citing the “Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012,” which according to CNN, “restricts Iranian citizens from education in United States if they were preparing for a career in the energy sector or nuclear science in Iran.”
However, the school told The Boston Globe that it was ditching the policy after consulting with the State Department and following criticism from both students and outside groups.
Here is a picture of Khalkhali, via her Facebook:
Khalkhali told NBC News that when she tried to return to the US following her dismissal from UMass, she was handcuffed, held overnight, and deported.
“I was very shocked and heartbroken,” Khalkhali told NBC News.
Both UMass and the US government were aware of what she was studying and had deemed it safe, according to Khalkhali. She told NBC News that she assumed she would be welcome in the US after the State Department approved her visa, even without UMass’ support.
“They were all aware of my research,” Khalkhali said. “The university was aware what my PhD thesis was about.”
Before it was reversed, however, UMass’ policy had distinct negative impacts on Iranian graduate students who were applying to the university. Yale University visiting researcher in physics Sina Rostami, for example, said UMass rejected his application simply because he was from Iran.
We have reached out to the University of Massachusetts and Zahra Khalkhali for comment, and will update with any statements we receive.
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