Iranian Diaspora Spotlight: Dr. Shadee Abdi

By Roya Ahmadi, Summer Intern at the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies

Being a TV writer, stand-up comedian, and starting an exclusively Koobideh sandwich-selling food truck reign supreme among the creative aspirations of the funny and sharp newly-hired SF State Communication Studies assistant professor, Dr. Shadee Abdi. Until then, she is striving to better represent the complex and multifaceted stories of individual identities in her discipline. 

Growing up in Southern California, Dr. Abdi experienced the importance of being surrounded by a strong Iranian-American community. “I take very seriously my upbringing as an Iranian,” she explains. “I like to make it present in my work, my independent life, and my everyday relationships. I’m very cognizant of my Iranianness and my Americanness.” This awareness amplified both her curiosity and her intellectual trajectory after high school as she pursued her Bachelors and Masters at California State University, Long Beach, and later at the University of Denver for graduate work. After receiving her Ph.D. in Communication Studies, Dr. Abdi moved to Albuquerque to teach at the University of New Mexico, and most recently came to San Francisco State from Arizona State University — cities that have less prominent and concentrated Iranian-American communities. “Albuquerque had one Iranian restaurant in town that was so good. I would eat there all the time and that’s where I would hear Farsi. But it wasn’t a very big, tight knit [Iranian] community.”

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Dr. Shadee Abdi posing a question at the “Forty Years & More: International Conference on Iranian Diaspora Studies”

After her undergraduate education, Dr. Abdi decided to further pursue a career in teaching and research. “There’s still not a lot of research on our [Iranian] communities,” she says. “So when I got tasked with choosing what I wanted to do, it became pretty easy to see that there was an academic hole that needed to be filled.”

Dr. Abdi’s academic focus on identity and individual stories is particularly pertinent to Iranian Diaspora Studies. “I’m not interested in quantifying any of these experiences because the [Iranian] diaspora is so unique,” she says. For Dr. Abdi, “intersectionality needs to be foregrounded as part of the study of identity.” Focusing on topics of race, culture, sexuality, gender, and ability, among other identities, Dr. Abdi strives to stimulate open and meaningful conversations about individual experiences, including often untold narratives. 

Dr. Abdi’s courses have included “Intercultural Communication” and “Gender and Sexuality” at Arizona State University and this fall she will be teaching similar topics at SFSU. She prides  herself on challenging her students to delve into complex questions about their identities and encouraging them to ask themselves questions such as, “How are your intersectional identities influencing you? Your being? Your person? Dr. Abdi is thrilled by the prospect of teaching at SFSU.“I get to do social justice work in the classroom that immediately [and tangibly] impacts people. It’s also important for me as an Iranian-American, as a Muslim, to be a face and model for students. I think seeing somebody like me is really important. I didn’t have faculty mentors that were of Middle Eastern descent, ever.” Accurate and diverse representation has always been important to Dr. Abdi. In fact, it was what drew her towards the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies at San Francisco State University. 

Dr. Abdi is happy to come back “home” to the Bay Area as her family is here and she’s thrilled to be at the Communication Studies Department at SFSU and at a social justice-oriented university. Since arriving here last month, Dr. Abdi has been working at the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies. “I want to make sure that we are a very inclusive and social justice-oriented center” she says, “by creating a space for our LGBTQ Iranians, for Iranians with different abilities, and making sure to include intersectional identities.” 

“There’s still a lot of work to do, especially in this political climate, about Iran” says Dr. Abdi. “It’s really important to show counter narratives as a way to humanize Iran and Iranian Americans.  When we talk about Iran, we often talk about it as if it’s a person; as if we are punishing a bad person. And when we do that, we forget that there are actual people whose lives are affected by the narratives that we generate.” She believes that in a time where negative attention towards Iranian Americans grows profusely, telling alternative stories is even more critical. 

Make sure to tune into Dr. Shadee Abdi’s Instagram takeover on the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies Instagram account (@center4iraniandiasporastudies) on July 23rd!

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