Alumni Spotlight

By Lily Hicks

The first time Parisa Saranj, class of ’10, set foot on the UMass campus was for orientation. At first, UMass was just her ticket to the East Coast, a way she could be closer to one of two American cities she had heard so much about as a child.

“In Iran, you always think of ‘America’ as Hollywood or New York,” Saranj said in a phone interview from her Rockville, Maryland, home. At 18, she moved from Isfahan, Iran, to California. After four years of learning English and taking classes at community college, Saranj applied to a variety of colleges in the Northeast in hopes of getting closer to New York and decided on UMass.

Saranj became a student in the Journalism Program. She always knew she wanted to be a writer, and “the closest thing in the dictionary that I think came to writing was the word ‘journalism,’” she said. As an undergraduate, she blogged for a section of AOL’s “Politics Daily.”

Today she writes a column called “I Heart Iran" for Aslan Media, featuring stories about Iranian culture that she doesn’t think would surface in traditional American or Iranian media. Aslan Media documents the news, politics and culture or the Middle East and its worldwide diaspora.

“I want to show how ordinary Iranian people think and react to politics,” said Saranj. “I want to show my fellow Americans how Iranians use humor and sarcasm to deal with the government and to deal with the situations they cannot change.”

Saranj wants to be a “voice for the voiceless”—a phrase she first learned from Journalism Professor Nick McBride.

Just as she has done with her major, Saranj has applied her minor in Women’s Studies to her professional life. She works as a marketing and social media assistant at the Iranian branch of the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), a not-for-profit organization whose main objective, she says, is “empowering women and minorities through journalism and media.” Part of her job requires her to translate readings and theories of Women’s Studies from English to Farsi for an Iranian online journal of Women’s Studies—the first of its kind.

Saranj is still in school. She studies Comparative and Regional Studies of The Middle East at American University, but will transfer to Goucher College to study nonfiction writing in the fall. It is there that she wants to “polish” her stories on her blog and to write her memoir, which she started in Journalism Professor Madeline Blais’s "Diaries, Memoirs and Journals" class. Until she finishes her memoir, she considers her blog and her memoir to be one and the same.

“I really want it to be the memoir of a generation, a memoir of my generation. There’s a really good market for Iranian memoirs out there in the world, out there in America. However, most follow the same narrative: life before 1979, the Revolution versus after the Revolution. But I am from a different generation. I didn’t participate in the revolution. I wasn’t even born. I was born in the Islamic Republic of Iran that we know today. Where is the story of my generation? What was life like for us? I think that’s what I’ve tried to do with my blog.”


Journalism Department
108 Bartlett Hall
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003

Phone: 413.545.1376