"AFTER DECADES IN EXILE, THE CSU GAVE ME A HOME." Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, Director of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Program at CSU Northridge, believes that activism is an essential part of a 21st-century education. Page ContentIt was no small achievement when Nayereh Tohidi passed the rigorous entrance exam and was accepted into the ultra-competitive University of Tehran in the early 1970s. She had earned the second highest grade in all of Iran in her intended fields of study, psychology and sociology, and was one of only five students in her graduating high school class in natural sciences who would be going on to college. Some national newspapers announced the names and ranks of students who had passed the exam, including her name at the top of the list in her field. Her very religious extended family, however, had a much different view of Tohidi not only attending college, but one that was co-ed. “That,” she says, “was unheard of in my conservative Muslim family.” A family member phoned her father to express his displeasure. “After all these years I remember it so vividly,” she says. “I can see my father’s face turning red, him losing his temper.” Later, he’d tell her what the relative had said: “Congratulations — your daughter has entered into the institute of prostitution.” x “I Had to Fight Every Step of the Way” With the encouragement of her father, a high school teacher and, later, a college professor, Tohidi would not only attend the University of Tehran but go on to earn a doctorate in educational psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Since 1997, Dr. Tohidi has been on the faculty of California State University, Northridge. Today, she’s a professor (now emeritus) in the Gender and Women’s Studies Department and founding director of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Program. An internationally recognized scholar on gender, Islam and feminism, Tohidi has consulted to the United Nations on the status of women, taught and held research fellowships at Harvard and Stanford, among other institutions, spent a year as a Fulbright scholar doing field work in the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, and published widely, in books and journals, on women, Islam and gender issues. None of this came without a struggle. “I had to fight every step of the way to get to where I am today,” she says. Early in life, she didn’t enjoy the same privileges and freedom as her brothers. She’d be harshly scolded by neighbors if she rode one of her brothers’ bicycles (she wasn’t allowed to have her own). And while she wasn’t ordered to wear a veil, as some of her cousins were, contact with boys outside her family was strictly forbidden. Spotted coming out of a movie theater with an older boy who lived down the street, she was pulled out of school and banished to her grandmother’s home for the “dishonor” she’d brought upon her family. Tormented by guilt, the young man killed himself. A couple of years later, Tohidi would flee a forced arranged marriage.