Bobak Razavi '03: Carrying Amherst’s Torch in Law and Education
Issue   |   Fri, 10/20/2017 - 01:55
Photos courtesy of Bobak Razavi ’03
Bobak Razavi ’03 has led careers in law and education and now works with students at St. Paul Academy and Summit School.

Bobak Razavi ’03 is currently a school teacher of seventh and eighth graders at St. Paul Academy and Summit School, a K-12 independent school. As an Amherst student, Razavi was thoughtful and added an unique perspective to his classes. After graduation, he attended law school but recognized soon after that his passion was not in this field.

This realization is what led him to his current teaching career, where he tries to bring an Amherst-style outlook to a middle school classroom, broaching difficult topics and creating ways for students to embrace his own love of digital media.

Bringing Interesting Perspectives
When Razavi first visited Amherst, he was amazed at the teacher and student relationships that he distinctly remembers seeing at an event in Lewis-Sebring.

“I didn’t realize college could be like that, in that students were like the next generation of equal peers to professors,” he said. “Nowhere I went did it feel quite like that.”

Razavi majored in Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought. His interest in the major was due to its interdisciplinary element. “I loved that it was a combination of political science and philosophy and case law and it was very intentionally not law school-y,” he said.

At Amherst, Razavi was also a features editor for The Amherst Student and president of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG.)

Anthropology and sociology, American studies and environmental studies professor emeritus Jan Dizard, who taught Razavi’s first-year environmental studies seminar, described Razavi as an “active and eager student.”

“He was just excited to be here at Amherst, and he had and still has a great sense of humor,” he said. “He was an active participant and a smart guy … We became friends as a result of that first encounter and kept in touch with one another … I feel very fond of him.”

The evening before Dizard’s class with Razavi met, the news was filled with photos of the Iraq War, of armoured vehicles from the U.S. moving across the flat desert of Southern Iraq. He recalled a distinct memory that he has of Razavi in class while discussing the war.

“The build-up to the war was, of course, [the idea that] the Iraqis would greet us as liberators who were liberating them from the evils from Saddam Hussein,” Dizard said. “The men were all raising their thumbs … and it was impossible not to talk about these themes in the next class.”

During class, Razavi was quiet for a while — “uncharacteristically,” Dizard said. After some other students said that Iraqis were “cheering us on and giving us the thumbs up and so on, [Razavi] cleared his voice and said, ‘I’m from Iran, and in the Middle East the thumbs up is the same thing as the middle finger in the United States.’”

“That was Bobak,” Dizard said. “He was modest. He would never try to dominate the discussion … He would wait his turn and always had something … that was an interesting twist on an interesting perspective.”

From Law to Education
After graduating from Amherst, Razavi worked at the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he worked “on major price fixing cases and large corporate mergers,” he said. Two years later, he moved onto the next step in his career, attending the University of Wisconsin Law School with a focus on environmental law. From there he went on to work at a large law firm.

“I met a lot of good people there, but I kind of knew that wasn’t where my heart was long term,” he said. “So after three years of practicing law there, I went into teaching, and that has been awesome.”

As a middle school teacher, Razavi hopes to have an impact on civic engagement and wants his students to feel connected with the current issues occurring in the nation and the world today.

“For our eighth grade curriculum, it’s modern American history,” Razavi said. “We have been more intentional recently in terms of engaging the reality of white on black violence through agents of the state, through the police, and that’s going to be hard conversations with eighth graders.” Despite the difficulty of having these conversations, however, Razavi emphasizes the importance of educating his students on these matters. “They are seeing it on YouTube and in their Instagram feeds and SnapChats,” he said. “The other piece I care about is making kids realize that there is such a thing as privilege and some people have it and some people don’t.”

Amherst’s Influence at St. Paul Academy and Summit School
Razavi said that as a teacher at St. Paul Academy and Summit School, a significant part of his teaching style and his approach to classroom discussion originated from his own experiences as an LJST at Amherst.

“I feel like I’m trying to create the middle-school version of Amherst where people listen to each other, you’re all in a circle, you’re all equals and we care a lot about reading, we care a lot about writing and we care about ideas,” Razavi said. “I think it’s important to have these classrooms, where we’re having inquiry-based discussions about issues that matter, and your voice counts, especially if you have facts to back it up from the reading that you did last night.”

His love for digital media was still apparent as he chatted about helping to start the first video news network at St. Paul Academy and Summit School, his excitement clearly showing.

“Kids are making news stories about the school,” he said. “Some of it is serious, [like] where they’re reporting on what happened at the boys’ football game, but there’s parts of it where I intentionally made it very light-hearted.”
Razavi has incorporated elements of MASSPIRG and his first environmental studies course at Amherst in the late ’90s into his current seventh grade social studies curriculum. His work has impacted the curriculum in the classroom, making it “pretty influenced by sustainability studies and climate change.”

Looking Back
Reflecting on his experience at Amherst, Razavi believes that those four years have shaped him into an active doer.

“I feel like in high school you sit back and complain and … kind of just have a passive existence,” Razavi said. “You could totally go through high school, do everything, and only do what a college wants you to do to get accepted, but then now have a deep and authentic and engaged life.”

The classes that Razavi took, the clubs he participated in and the people befriended “helped me gain my voice and become someone who would do things and act on things,” Razavi said. “I became involved on the environmental side and planned the first solar power day in the town of Amherst. I felt like I could not have done that without a bunch of doers around me.”

Razavi’s fondest memories at Amherst involve the big circle of friends he had, with whom he still stays in touch.

“[I think] of my friends and hanging out with them in old Pratt … and in James and Stearns … but then I also [think] of their weddings and seeing all the same people at weddings,” he said. The bittersweet day of graduation, Razavi remembers, was “really sad.”

“I was really disappointed to be leaving,” he said. “I was really distraught, and I felt like the rest of my life would not be as good … I think of that day a lot, and it rained that day like crazy … After it was done, the sky opened up, and I was like, ‘This is the most depressing thing ever. This is the best four years, and now it’s over.’”

Other fond memories he shared include door-knocking for MASSPIRG — an interesting experience for an introvert, the divisions on campus after George W. Bush beat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election and “the magic of the orientation stuff at the beginning of the year.”

Razavi also has a love for moviemaking, and he runs movie-making camps, where kids write their own storyboards, cast their own characters and film and edit their own videos.

In the same vein, Razavi also enjoys doing home video production. “I make fake films … where I have the kids and their cousins play roles and we record those videos,” Razavi said. “I think they’re going to think it’s hilarious 10 years from now.”
During his free time, Razavi enjoys spending time with his family — his wife and two kids. His family loves outdoor activities such as apple-picking, going to pumpkin patches and father-daughter T-Ball, he said.