If his intermediate algebra students were to look a little closer at Arde Vakilzadeh, they would notice a few things beside his Iranian accent that make him a little out of the ordinary.
If they were to focus on his hand as he writes on the white board, they would notice a clearly disfigured finger.
If Vakilzadeh rolled up his sleeve, they would see a scar on his forearm that looks like a burn mark.
And if they were to stare at his face, they might notice that his nose had been broken and hasn’t healed completely.
All these injuries Vakilzadeh obtained from disobeying the Iranian government.
He moved to the United States eight years ago with his wife and three children, though this is his first year teaching at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.
In Iran, Vakilzadeh was also a professor. At the entrance of the school, there is an American flag everyone who enters must step on. Vakilzadeh didn’t.
“Every day I would jump over the flag,” Vakilzadeh said. “Eventually someone told on me.”
Vakilzadeh was approached by government officials and asked if it was true that he didn’t step on the flag. He said it was true and was put in jail, beaten and tortured.
“I was shocked when I heard about this. I never knew things were that bad,” said journalism freshman Arielle Horsch, one of Vakilzadeh’s students.
However, Vakilzadeh said this sort of treatment isn’t anything new.
He said not supporting the government meant someone was 100 percent against it.
“They had no problem just breaking your fingers,” he said with a chuckle, holding up his disfigured finger. “They are sick. They are worse than a dictatorship.”
Escaping the country with his family was not easy, Vakilzadeh said.
“It was very hard to leave. I couldn’t just come [to the US]. I had to pay a lot of money and come underground.” Vakilzadeh said.
Upon arriving in the U.S., Vakilzadeh had to work his way from the ground up. A professor with a Ph.D. had to start working as a dishwasher and learn English before he could begin teaching again.
“First I came here, they didn’t recognize my degree,” Vakilzadeh said. “When you don’t know English, you have to learn the alphabet, numbers. Everything is different.”
Despite a rough beginning, Vakilzadeh doesn’t regret moving to the U.S.. As for his students, they see him a little differently knowing his story.
“Him not stepping on the American flag took a lot of courage. He wasn’t just taking a stand; he was making a difference,” said nursing sophmore Brandon Meeks,
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.