CAIR-CT: BEHIND BURQA, STUDENT GETS AN EDUCATION IN BIGOTRY
Caitlin Dean was raised not to discriminate against others because of their race or religion. But as a white suburban teen of Italian and Irish descent, she often wondered what it would be like to be the target of such abuse.
She found out "behind the burqa."
The 15-year-old freshman volunteered with a few other students to wear traditional Muslim clothing to school for an entire day in February after a Middle Eastern Studies teacher at Bacon Academy announced that she was looking for students to promote her class by wearing the garb. Caitlin covered her slender frame and short brown hair with a periwinkle burqa, which concealed her face.
The hateful and abusive comments she endured that day horrified teachers, the teen and many of her classmates. The remarks underscored a persistent animosity toward American Muslims that is driven largely by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But they also opened up an important dialogue that could help teenagers in Colchester and across the state view the Muslim culture differently.
"Hey, we rape your women!" one upperclassman said as he passed Caitlin in the hallway.
"I hope all of your people die," another sniped.
"You're probably going to kill us all" and "Why do they let people like this in the country?" were other remarks she heard on Feb. 1.
Caitlin's observations that day did not surprise those who work for the Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which arrived in the state about three years ago in response to hate crimes and prejudice against Muslims.
Caitlin wrote down 50 comments and names she was called. She did not respond because "I am a freshman. I like to avoid making waves."
But when she saw a friend and a teacher who knew that Caitlin was the person under the burqa, she broke down in a classroom.
"I started crying," Caitlin said. "There is way too much prejudice."
The lack of understanding of Islam and of the many of the cultures that contribute to a worldwide population of more than 1 billion Muslims is something Rabia Chaudry, a spokeswoman for CAIR, planned to raise with the state Department of Education when she meets with officials in a few weeks.
Now she plans to use Colchester as a positive example in terms of discussing prejudice and raising awareness of the Muslim culture.
"I think what this teacher has done is exactly what schools should be doing," Chaudry said.
None of the students were singled out for discipline because no formal complaints were made.
"It's unacceptable," Superintendent Karen Loiselle said. "It's imperative students who are victims of those comments report them immediately and it will be taken very seriously. In this case, it has opened an important conversation."
Chaudry agreed and said her group would like to send representatives to meet with students in Colchester and other communities, to hold town meetings to talk about their feelings about Muslims, the war and terrorism.