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First impressions

First impressions

Michelle Tedford April 01, 2024

Angita Gosalia, her dark hair covered in pink cloth, called my name as my colleague, Kasey Shaw, and I walked down the stairs of Kennedy Union. “It’s World Hijab Day!” Sangita had just visited the information table where students helped her pick out and secure her own head covering.

 Sangita, senior director for UD’s Global and Intercultural Affairs Center, is Jain, one of the world’s oldest religions with roots in India. Kasey was raised Jewish. I am Catholic.

We are three of the women who that day accepted the offer from the Muslim Student Association to pick out our own hijabs from the rolls of fabrics stacked on a table near one of the busiest doorways on campus, between the bowling lanes and the make-your-own pizza line.

Emma, a smiling student in a dress with white polka dots, asked me to pull back my hair so she could fashion the honeydew green hijab over my head. “The material is a little slippery,” she warned. It was made of the same fabric as the rich brown hijab she wore, its long end tossed across her shoulder.

As she arranged my scarf and tucked a stray wisp of hair, I asked Emma what the hijab meant to her. She recalled when she was younger how donning it felt like empowerment. Then there was a stretch in her life when she put it on with the same care as she did a pair of pants. Now, she said, it’s a daily reminder of her religion. “I feel closer to God,” she said.

It’s also the first thing people notice about her. That can be good, she said, but it can also be a moment filled with pre-conceptions and snap judgments.

A dozen years ago, this magazine ran a feature story about Muslim women on campus. They are from many countries, including this one. Some choose to cover their heads. Those who do make a first impression as women of faith.

Their faith plays a role in their choice to attend a Catholic university. The Marianists enliven and enrich our campus by demonstrating hospitality and honoring the intrinsic value and dignity of all people.

The women notice.

 “I respect religious people of any faith who are sincere,” one of them said in the story.

The concept of belonging is one that keeps surfacing during conversations among the UD Magazine staff at our weekly storytelling meetings; when “community” is an oft-uttered word, it’s important to understand who feels they belong, who does not, and what’s needed to ensure everyone can fully participate.

As Kasey and I thanked the women, Emma asked that we wear our hijabs for the rest of the day and think about the many meanings of the hijab — to Muslims and to us. Hers was a call to be conscious of how we represent ourselves and how we draw meaning from the actions of others.

The material I had chosen was indeed slippery, and it slid down again and again. But every time I repositioned it that afternoon, I thought about what else Emma had said. The hijab is not about covering beauty; the hijab redefines what beauty is. On World Hijab Day, she invited us into community and made sure we all felt welcome enough to participate. And that is beautiful.

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