Merima Tricic is an LLSP alumna, class of 2013. She shares her story on being bullied and discriminated against because of how she chose to express her faith.
When I first decided to wear the headscarf, in the midst of my second quarter in college, I did not really expect a lot of reactions at school or from the general public. Perhaps it was because I was so taken with my decision that I never gave much thought to how my fellow students would treat me-I certainly had never thought that I would be treated differently by my professors. I assumed that I would be peppered with questions from my peers…why did you make the decision? Why now? But what I was not ready for was the judgment from faculty. After all, at a progressive university, can you really expect to have your relationship with a professor compromised because of religious dress?
In my “hijab chronicles” the most memorable moment is when I walked into a meeting with my professor to discuss my research and I was asked point blank, “What happened to you.” I began to look down at myself…had I cut myself? Was I bleeding? Had I spilled something on my clothes? And then she repeated, “What happened to you.” This time, I felt as if she had slapped me-catching me completely off guard.
“What?” I responded, confused.
“Why are you wearing the hijab?” she had said in a jeering way.
This time I was really flummoxed-shocked. It wasn’t a problem that she asked me why I was wearing the headscarf. It was her tone. She was condemning me.
She walked with me inside the office to which I hesitantly responded, “I… wanted to?”
I had been taken aback by the question and had answered bluntly. I did not feel the need to explain my decision to her. It is my body, right?
She interrupted my inner dialogue by adding, “I don’t understand why women wear this. This is the modern century. Though I am Turkish I don’t see the point of hijab. It’s so cultural. I don’t understand why Turkish women wear it when they are so gorgeous. They wear their scarves and high heels and they are the most corrupt. They don’t really represent Islam. And you! You are at studying at a university. Why would you want to wear it?”
I was taken aback. I stared at her nonplussed as she continued to speak.
“Women are sexy. What’s the point of hijab anyways? Hijab isn’t even hijab. It’s a political symbol. “
She looked up and down at me as I swallowed and said, “I wear it because I want too. I want to wear the headscarf for myself and for my faith. It is mine. I don’t wear it for political reasons.” It seemed as if my mind was rambling and grasping for words but unable to respond adequately.
She sighed as if exasperated and said, “You look modern at least. Not much different from what you were before.”
I nodded and proceeded to ask her about the submission of my paper. This conversation occurred during my third month of wearing hijab. I was still processing my decision for myself, and I had I had become accustomed to discussing it, especially with non-Muslims. But this conversation with my professor left me completely shocked, hurt and confused. I still remember that my friend was waiting for me outside the office door, her mouth gaping at the conversation she was overhearing.
I spent last summer at KARAMAH attending the Law and Leadership Summer Program. There, I was able to find my voice and tell my story-one of me still finding myself, nuancing my decisions, and dreaming of my future. When I heard about the Muslim America Stories project, particularly the emphasis on school bullying, I knew that I needed to share my story.
It is an unfortunate reality that many who wear the headscarf are subject to various kinds of abuse. From being called a “towel head” at the supermarket to being approached by young Muslim girls after karate competitions thanking me for fighting with my scarf, I have had my fair share of proud moments and bad moments. Because of the bad moments and the overt racism that exists in our communities, I have become accustomed to ignoring the comments. I realized that in disregarding my professor’s comments I was lying to myself. The truth is, I was affected by what she said. She had marginalized me in my safe space…my place of learning. She diminished me as a scholar-questioning my personal decisions and making a judgment about my academic ones. Of course this affected me as a student, as a scholar. School bullying is not just being called names or being treated badly by your fellow students. It is any compromise in your education because someone limits you based on how you appear.