Empty Seats, Lone Lectures: What’s Wrong With Me?
I am a visibly Muslim woman. When people think of what a Muslim woman should look like, there is a preconception that she wears some sort of headwrap, whether it be a Hijab, or a Niqab — anything that covers her hair. This obviously isn’t the case for all Muslim women. But when your religion is wrapped around your head, questions on your faith are inevitable. I have to explain myself — explain my religion, because I am the only Muslim woman in class. At least, the Visible Muslim.
When I was in a lecture of hundreds of students, I would find myself sitting alone, empty seats surrounding me. I am sure this has happened to a lot of people, but I couldn’t help but attribute this to the fact that I was the only Hijabi in class.
I told myself I wouldn’t take offense; perhaps I was just unapproachable. But this kept happening and it wasn’t only in large lecture halls.
I noticed this same trend in my recitations and would wonder how, in a class of 18, I would be sitting alone. There were some perks though: the lack of a partner gave me time to write more comprehensive notes, and the extra seats gave my backpack, jacket and purse a place to call home for the hour and a half.
But this drove me mad for a few weeks, I remember keeping track of the empty seats per class, and updating my private Snapchat story on each day’s statistics. Not even the horrors of STATS 250 compared to the horrors of knowing that I was completely unapproachable. That was hard to digest: people were afraid to sit next to the Hijabi. It was like this for a long time and I was afraid that this was going to be my future here. College is cold enough, and I didn’t want to spend it completely alone.
The school that loves using diversity as one of its main selling points was lacking in that department. And it showed. It showed in everything from class to campus events to simple dining hall stops. It showed in the stares, the blank faces and the complete disregard. There was something striking about this, but there was nothing as striking to me as my first revelation that I was the Token. I was the Token I would see on the college pamphlets, sporting a fake smile, reeling in the other Tokens. I was the Token, but I was not welcome.
With my newfound Token identity, I became hyper-aware of all my actions, worried I would do or say something that could misrepresent my community. Deep down, I knew I shouldn’t have to be the spokesperson, but I was and I didn’t want to screw it up. How I spoke depended on precise thought — it depended on playing my role right. I am still trying to figure out what exactly that role is. Maybe it’s just being myself, or maybe it’s more than that.
This semester is different, much better than the hopeless and dreary Fall semester days of crushed confidence and brackish beginnings.
People sit next to me now. Maybe it’s due to the addition of blue and white to my wardrobe. Google must’ve been wise to advise me on the supposed “most approachable colors.”
I am happier; I enjoy my classes and the University’s opportunities. But I especially enjoy the friends that were not afraid to sit next to the Hijabi.