Sarah Hassan is a shy girl. But she’s especially shy while attending classes on Fairfield University’s campus. She wears a hijab and prefers walking the paths between buildings as opposed to sitting in the campus center seating, avoiding the incessant stares that almost burn through her small abaya covered body.

When she arrived to Fairfield for the September 2007 orientation, it took only two hours for her to break away from the group icebreakers and head towards the Freshman Dean’s office. There she immediately withdrew from the class of 2011. The persistent attacks of strange staring caused a discomfort strong enough to demote Fairfield University as a place of higher education for Sarah Hassan.

Upon hearing her abrupt withdrawal, Sarah’s family was concerned.

“Are you sure Sarah?” her mother asked.

“You were there for only one day and Fairfield offers a wholesome and high-up education that can have a positive impact on your future.”

“I hate it.” Sarah replied. “I can’t be there.”

But a close family friend steered Sarah in the other direction.

“Sarah, this is not an opportunity every girl your age can take advantage of,” the friend sternly pointed out.

“You are denying yourself the chance of a degree, Sarah, a degree that is necessary in today’s world if you ever expect to get a job and support yourself and your family in the future.”

The next day Sarah returned to the Deans office, and re-enlisted herself as a member of the Class of 2011, embarrassed of yesterday’s selfish behavior. Sarah declared herself as an English major and took to commuting daily from her Bridgeport home to attend classes at the university.

Sarah became accustomed to the staring despite the discomfort. As a commuter, it was hard for Sarah to make friends. “People usually find friends who are similar to them,” Sarah believes.

As a Muslim student, the absence of other similar students believing and dressing for the same faith hindered Sarah’s friend making opportunities. Luckily, at home she has two supportive brothers and a graceful relationship with her mother and father. Each night everyone joins for dinner, filling the table with warm foods and stories from the day. “I’m just like everyone else here,” Sarah says.

Her junior year proved to be the biggest struggle for Sarah as she was discomforted by more than strong stares. Sarah enrolled in a course taught by a professor she was unwilling to identify. Negative comments regarding Islam and its practices found their way into the weekly class lectures and Sarah’s absences resulted in a personal and public attack upon her compromised return to classes.

Sarah was nursing her hospitalized mother and had agreed with her professor, prior to her absence, that it was a permissible excuse to miss class. The agreement seemed to be forgotten the day she came back to class.

“Look who decided to come to class!” the professor shouted as Sarah walked through the door. She lowered her hijab-covered head, walked promptly and took her seat, struggling to remain for the duration of the class.

But things only got worse. After failing a proudly articulated paper for this same class, Sarah was in tears. She couldn’t understand the failing grade and when brought to the Dean’s office no one could offer a justifiable reason for the failing grade.

Sarah’s GPA has lowered after completing this class but she has since continued pursuing the degree she deserves. Sarah cannot wait until May’s graduation ceremony and the new life she will be able to live beyond the harsh stares on Fairfield’s campus.

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