Student activism on university campuses has had a very rich and colorful history all over the world. University students gravitate toward campus activism for a variety of reasons but fighting for social freedoms and against dictatorial regimes, especially in countries ruled by despotic tyrants has a bloody past. Iran is no exception.

"Students Day" was recently observed in Iran, an occasion that commemorates the deaths of three University of Tehran students at the hands of the Shah's regime in 1953. For Iranian citizens and ethnic Iranians throughout the world, the date typically serves as a reminder of the country's student population's historical resilience and its influence over society as a whole. Student activism accelerated dramatically in the wake of the killings, and students ultimately played a leading role in the Shah's ouster.

This year, activists have called for three days of protest leading up to Students Day, with additional protests on the occasion itself. This call to action comes as more and more observers are concluding that Iran is currently on the path to a new revolution and that this time students will again play a leading role in overthrowing the ayatollahs' theocratic dictatorship.

The Islamic Republic is now in its third month of continuous, nationwide protests. At least 277 Iranian cities and towns have been the site of demonstrations in which people have chanted slogans like "death to the dictator" and "down with oppression, be it the Shah's or the mullahs." The country's leading pro-democracy opposition organization, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK), estimates that over 680 protesters have been killed in the resulting crackdowns, and some 30,000 arrested, yet the uprising seemingly shows no sign of abating.

Iranians from all walks of life are now participating in the movement, and as with the revolution against the Shah, students are once again leading the way. Protests have been held at every major university, and the student body has predictably faced an onslaught of government repression.

The regime's fear of student protesters was made plain on Oct. 2 when security forces effectively sealed off Sharif University of Technology and fired their weapons into crowds before conducting mass arrests which did not exclude the wounded. The scale of that operation was unlike anything seen on university campuses in recent years, but it only served to reinforce the message of earlier arrests, such as those of Amirhossein Moradi and Ali Younesi, two International Astronomy Olympiad gold medalists whose promising academic futures were derailed in 2020 when they were accused of being MEK activists.

Authorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran have always had a fraught relationship with students and academics, as is typical of fascist regimes throughout the world. Constant scrutiny of intellectuals has contributed to a longstanding "brain drain" that has deeply affected Iran's economic prospects as well as its prospects for societal and political change.

In recent years, students and graduates have increasingly gravitated toward membership in the "Resistance Units" established by the MEK to organize large-scale protests and directly challenge the clerical regime's hold on power. That network of full-time activists has been instrumental in making Iran the site of at least nine anti-government uprisings since the end of 2017.

In November 2019, when a large uprising broke out following sharp increases in government-set gasoline prices, authorities under Khamenei's command opened fire on crowds of protesters, killing 1,500 in a matter of only days.

Students and young people were naturally prominent among the dead, wounded, and detained in those uprisings. But their presence has been greatly amplified in the current uprising, and for the first time, explicit, coordinated challenges to the ruling system have been coming from high school as well as university students.

Those protests reflect a virtually universal desire for the youth of the nation to pursue higher education in a country where the political leadership values free thought and safeguards the equal rights of all people. Tragically, at least 60 juveniles are among 680 victims who have lost their lives since mid-September to realize that vision.

But memorials to those victims have frequently sparked new demonstrations, which make it clear that there is a strong possibility of the nation's youth successfully throwing off the mullahs' dictatorship and setting Iran on the path to democratic rule.

The motivating power of those memorials adds a great deal of additional significance to Students Day and there were nationwide calls for strikes and protests from Dec. 5-7.

Iranians have always shown tremendous respect for martyrs to a just cause, and in the nearly 70 years since the first Students Day, they have demonstrated their commitment to assuring that such deaths are never in vain, no matter how long it takes.

Ever since Khomeini co-opted the 1979 revolution to place himself at the head of a system of absolute clerical rule, Iranians have been waiting to realize the democratic aspirations that originally motivated popular support for that revolution.

Now, it seems increasingly clear that their long wait is nearing its end. The international community in general and university students and academics should be on the side of brave Iranians who are crying for freedom and paying the price with their blood. The West should end the nuclear talks, impose serious sanctions on the regime and hold the regime leaders accountable for their crimes. This is the message that Iranian university students deserve to hear on Student Day.

Dr. Hossein Saiedian is a professor at the University of Kansas; Dr. Kazem Kazerounian is a professor and dean at the University of Connecticut