2020 Incoming Grad Series: Richard Nedjat-Haiem

by Chava Nerenberg, Graduate Programming Assistant
Tuesday, September 22, 2020 9:00 AM

The 2020 Incoming Grad Series continues, featuring backstories and fun facts about 8 students who are part of the entering class at UCSB.

Richard Nedjat-Haiem is entering the PhD program in Comparative Literature. He hails from Los Angeles, California, but has traveled all over the world and speaks English, Persian, and Arabic, as well as some French and Hebrew. Richard is a talented dancer and during his time at UCSB, he plans to explore the intersectionalities of performance, film & media, feminist, ethnomusicological, and anthropological studies of Middle Eastern culture. Read on to learn more about Richard's background, why he chose UCSB, how he became a viral dance sensation, and some surprising fun facts! 


Richard was born and raised in Los Angeles to Persian Jewish parents. He has always been enamored with Middle Eastern culture, particularly music, dance, and how memory and “identity" impact socio-cultural identity. In his late teens and early twenties he taught himself Arabic, and when he was 18, he came out to his family. He explains that at the time, this was a rather controversial issue in his community. However, he told us he has an incredible family who is very accepting and supportive.

He went to UCLA to study Middle Eastern studies and then continued at the University of Chicago, where he completed a Master's thesis entitled “Sawt al-Arab: Pan-Arabism, Nationalism, Cross Cultural Exchange, and the Diva.” In this innovative project he compared and contrasted various legendary singers from the “Golden Era” to icons of today and explored how they represent Pan-Arabism, individual nationalism and cross cultural exchange in the contemporary neo-liberal Arab world.

Richard used to dance professionally and became well known within the Middle Eastern dance community both here and abroad for his authenticity in both Egyptian and Iraqi styles. 


Richard chose UCSB because of the incredible faculty. He says they have been wonderful and generous to him and showed a great interest in his work. This made him feel very supported and well-placed at UCSB. While he loves the east coast and the Mediterranean, he is also happy to be studying close to home, especially with the pandemic.  



Richard is broadly interested in Middle Eastern cultural studies through the Comparative Literature program. He told us his research interests are very interdisciplinary and are a mix of anthropology, ethnomusicology, film and media studies, post-colonial studies, cultural history, and political science--just to name a few. He is also extremely interested in cultural history pertaining to music and dance, due to his extensive background in both. He told us he is investigating fringe identities like Mizrahi studies, the Iranian influence in the Gulf, and the Persian Jewish diaspora in southern California and that he prefers to use socio-linguistics as the main source of evidence in his work.



When Richard was 18, he traveled to Chicago for a dance workshop weekend with the great Egyptian dancer, Dina. When he later attended one of her shows in Cairo, she spotted him from the audience and had him get up in the middle of her show and perform a solo to a packed crowd. The video of his performance went viral, and has over 100,000 views across the Arab world. Richard was also featured in the finale episode of the second season of Shahs of Sunset, where he was the choreographer for Asa Soltan's “Persiapalooza” concert. 

In his free time, Richard enjoys bodybuilding, taking walks, listening to Persian and Arabic music, learning languages, reading, and dancing. He is also a coffee enthusiast, and particularly enjoys Turkish coffee and Italian espresso. He is a talented cook (thanks to his dad), and has been working on cooking and baking during quarantine. 

Richard loves traveling and has been to many countries, including Egypt, Kuwait, the USA, Mexico, Lebanon, England, France, Bahrain, Israel, Morocco, Turkey, Italy, and Spain. He has a long list of countries he hopes to travel to in the future.

Richard is excited to begin his academic career at UCSB and to learn to play the Oud, too! 

Welcome, Richard!

Be sure to subscribe to the GradPost and check back each day until the start of classes for the continuation of our Incoming Grad Series. Up next is Robin Liu, an incoming PhD student in Statistics and Applied Probability from Michigan who is interested in researching machine learning. Check back tomorrow to learn more about Robin's research and his interest in slacklining and jiu-jitsu!