By Rachel Gross

Last Friday, UC Berkeley junior Jasmine Jahanshahi, who had been studying in France, died in a tragic fire in Paris that spread to her room in through the Labyrinth Estate apartments in the Menilmontant neighborhood in the 20th arrondissement. She was 20. Her friend and fellow exchange student, Louise Brown, also perished. Rachel Gross, a Cal senior and frequent Berkeleyside contributor, remembers Jahanshahi and joins her friends in calling for Parisian authorities to make changes.

Sarcastic, sincere and incisive all in one breath, Jasmine was the type of personality who made an instant impression. She mesmerized; she sparkled.

She was a serious student, even for Berkeley. Her perspective was expansive. She studied political history and international law, traveled the world, and was fluent in English, Farsi and French. She was someone you knew was bound to go out and make her mark. But she was more: she was a true and dear friend.

How can anyone distill a person into an essence? I remember extended conversations about international politics, Berkeley feminism, butternut squash, the redeeming qualities of “Late Night Taco Stand” flavored Doritos, the nutritional value of HuFu (human-flavored tofu). I remember her as pure elegance, dressed in a black satin cocktail dress; I remember her staggering out of the bowels of the library at 8 a.m., hair afrizz, squinting through thick frames, still in yesterday’s sweatpants, still stunning.

Jasmine knew when to laugh, when to fight, and when to just make a gangsta face. She had a special place in her heart for communism, and for the heartwarming tales of Harry Potter. Her friends all attest: no one met Jasmine without falling in love with her. She was the best Berkeley had to offer. I only wish I had known her longer.

There is little consolation to give in the face of such tragedy, and all death is to some extent inconceivable. But this one was particularly avoidable. The apartment building Jasmine was staying in visiting was woefully decrepit: there were no fire alarms, no ladders, no fire escapes. The flames spread unchecked up a flammable wooden staircase. Five died, including Jasmine and Louise, and 57 more were injured. The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, said in a statement that the building was not found to be lacking in safety standards.

Though no one can take away the pain and shock of this untimely death, perhaps we can help ensure that something like this doesn’t happens again.

You can write a letter to Delanoe to demand better fire safety regulations for low-income housing by clicking here, or one to the mayor of the 20th arrondissement (where Jasmine lived), Frederique Calandra, by clicking here.

View the letter writing campaign, started by Jasmine’s close friend and classmate Megan Clement, here.

At Jasmine’s memorial this Saturday, instead of flowers, her family will be accepting donations to set up a nonprofit organization to purchase fire escape ladders for low-income housing.

My love to Jasmine’s family in Florida and to all her other, many, beloved friends. Her death is a loss for all of us.

Guest contributor

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Join the Conversation


  1. well, she was my third cousin, so imagine how I feel about this. I cannot go a day without thinking about her and that just isnt going to change.

  2. Hello,

    I applaud your efforts and celebrate the lives of these bright students who died full of their future.

    Please join our ClearCause – Stay Safe Abroad to inform and engage the public on the lack of federal oversight, minimum standards of practice, or transparent reporting on the safety record of abroad programs. 
    Together, we can try to prevent it from happening again.

    I will celebrate their lives on our memorial wall.  We remember.

    I am Sheryl Hill, Founding Director, of ClearCause Foundation & ClearCause Coalition. My son Tyler Hill died a preventable death on People to People Student Ambassador trip to Japan.


  3. Just to make it clear: Jasmine did not live in this apartment building; she, along with her friends Grace and Louise, had gone there to attend a party. Nor was the builidng low-income housing.

  4. Frances’ post might be confusing because there is another “guest” comment on this page that is not what she is replying to. The comment to which she is replying appears to have been (quite reasonably) deleted in its entirety.

  5. Well guest, I guess you are going for the “most provocative tone in the comments section” award of the day. Four people died in this fire and 57 were injured. There were no fire exits or escapes. Her apartment building is in a section of Paris that has many immigrants. A number of buildings are substandard and unsafe. Apparently, other deadly fires have not led to new regulations in Paris so this is what Jasmine’s friends are hoping to change.

    And for your information, 25% of Cal students are the first in their families ever to go to college. About 66% if the students have one parent born outside the US. Many of them do not pay any tuition because their families are low income. I think this differs from your perception that all Cal students are rich and therefore elitist.

  6. A Cal student died so now the entire city of Paris has to change it’s laws? Talk about a superiority complex. These students think the world revolves around them.

    Most people just live through tragedy. But Cal students demand that literally the world change for them.

    I wish I was so wealthy I could tell an entire European city what to do. It must be nice.

  7. Thanks for doing a great job capturing Jasmine’s essence. This article made me ache with good memories.

  8. Can you keep us posted on the results of this campaign? In 2005 a number of West African peoples perished in three fires in Paris, and there has been little follow up, despite suspicion of arson. Perhaps because an American student suffered, this case will receive more attention, though Menilmontant is also an immigrant area, and it is possible this too shall be overlooked. I hope not.