Eastern Michigan student Zoe Piliafas spent the winter semester wearing a burka, the heavy, concealing garment characteristic of women under the Taliban in Afghanistan. She kept a daily journal of her experiences and received independent study credit. “It felt like no one wanted to be near me.” This is how Eastern Michigan student Zoe Piliafas summed up her winter semester. Her new isolation wasn’t the result of being a bad or unpleasant person. It was simply because she was — at least, for this semester — different. To her professors and her classmates, she was not Zoe, an outgoing and outspoken student. She was Zhooda, a student with a soft Middle Eastern accent who wore a burka (sometimes spelled burqa or burkha), the heavy, concealing garment that became known to most Americans only when the media turned it into a symbol of the repression of women under the Taliban in Afghanistan.
“You’re not seeing the body of a female,” Piliafas said. “You’re seeing a garment that represents female.” Under the supervision of political science professors Elaine Martin and James Ivers, Piliafas received independent study credit for wearing the burka the entire winter semester. “Zoe kept a daily journal of her experiences,” Martin said. “She met with me several times throughout the semester, wrote and conducted an e-mail survey for students and professors and turned in a final paper summing up the experience. She received one credit hour.” “I thought about this for probably three years,” Piliafas said. “At first I had really strong judgment on it, and I thought, ‘Well, what is this? Why would a woman have to cover herself from head to toe to stop someone else from looking at her?’
“I thought by telling a woman that she needs to be covered up, we’re telling her that she’s basically unworthy,” she said. “But I don’t think that’s how Muslims view it. I think they view it as one so worthy that she can’t be looked upon.” (MORE)