Lecture Honors Donor, Growth of Persian Studies

Bita Daryabari applauds
The lecture and a reception honored Bita Daryabari, a Silicon Valley philanthropist and humanitarian whose $1.5 million gift established a new Bita Daryabari Presidential Chair in Persian Language and Literature. (T.J. Ushing/UC Davis)

What better way to celebrate UC Davis’ expanding program in Persian studies and its generous benefactor than with a lecture on modern Iranian women writers?

The Jan. 26 event at the Buehler Alumni Center featured a talk by Nasrin Rahimieh, a professor of humanities at UC Irvine and past president of the International Society for Iranian Studies.

The lecture and a reception honored Bita Daryabari, a Silicon Valley philanthropist and humanitarian whose $1.5 million gift established a new Bita Daryabari Presidential Chair in Persian Language and Literature at UC Davis.

“Bita’s gift positions UC Davis to become a leading force in advancing the global understanding of Persian language and culture,” Chancellor Linda Katehi told the crowd of more than 120 people.

Katehi presented Daryabari with a plaque and named her a Chancellor’s Laureate, the highest level of UC Davis’ Leadership Giving Society, for her transformational gift.

The UC Office of the President will provide a $500,000 matching fund through a new Endowed Faculty Leadership Initiative. The initiative seeks to create 16 new endowed professorship or chair positions at UC Davis.

Daryabari was the first to support the Endowed Faculty Leadership Initiative, Katehi said. “Bita was the first one who really saw the importance of this.” 

Daryabari had previously contributed to a PARSA Community Foundation endowment, which funds a visiting lecturer in Iranian and Persian studies in the Middle East/South Asia Studies Program.

The event also highlighted the efforts of three other women in building the Iran and Persian studies program — Distinguished Professor Suad Joseph, alumna Shirin Rahimian and the chancellor herself.

“Nobody can say no to Suad,” Katehi said. “Without Suad, this would not have happened.”

“Chancellor Katehi, we could not have done this without you and your leadership,” said Joseph, a distinguished professor of anthropology and gender, sexuality and women's studies, a faculty adviser to the chancellor and founding director of the Middle East/South Asia Studies (ME/SA) program. The chancellor committed funding for a lecturer to teach first- and second-year Persian language courses.

Joseph also presented a plaque of appreciation to Rahimian (B.A., English, ’83). She and her husband, Javad, who earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering at UC Davis, have been longtime supporters of Persian and Middle East/South Asia studies on campus. Joseph thanked associate professors Jocelyn Sharlet and Ali Anooshahr and visiting professor Wendy DeSouza for their dedication in building Iranian and Persian studies within ME/SA.

Rahimieh, the Howard Baskerville Professor of Humanities in the Department of Comparative Literature at UC Irvine, saluted Daryabari’s “visionary philanthropy” as well as Joseph and colleagues’ tireless efforts in building the program.

Her talk explored the writings of women in Iran going back to 1848. “I find a remarkable analogy between the visionary women we honor tonight and the generations of Iranian women writers who have questioned and transformed dominant cultural paradigms,” Rahimieh said. 

Related story

UC Davis Receives $1.5 Million From Prominent Iranian-American Philanthropist

— Kathleen Holder, a content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science

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