"How Does It Feel to be a Problem?" This theme is the title of the critically-acclaimed book by Moustafa Bayoumi which is on 2011 D-E Summer Reading Lists for both Grades 9-10 and Grades 11-12. The theme was also the focus of a recent D-E Assembly. Featuring memorable introductory comments from D-E sophomore Nisreen Yonis '13 and keynote remarks from special guest speaker Yasmin Dwedar, the assembly challenged all in attendance to consider what young Muslims in the United States encounter today in terms of their portrayal in contemporary media and popular culture, and stereotyping in general.
Dwedar, whose story is featured in Bayoumi's book, showed the video segment "Planet of the Arabs" and then spoke movingly about her experience of discrimination by her school more than 10 years ago, when she was in an elected student government position. Dwedar was forced to resign from her role initially, due to her religious beliefs and practices making it impossible for her to participate in certain school events. Dwedar movingly described her range of emotions when attempting to fight (at first unsuccessfully) institutional policies, and then later triumphing with pro bono legal help. Dwedar eventually pursued a law degree herself, and graduated with her J.D. just a few weeks ago.
Bayoumi's book themes will be threaded into the D-E English curriculum and other topics of discussion in the coming 2011-'12 academic year.
Fred Daly, English Department Chair, notes, "I saw the book at the publisher's booth at NCTE (English teacher convention) in November. I usually am looking for fiction, but I thought I'd give this book a shot, and I liked it. When I got to Yasmin's story, I was blown away -- her tenacity and intelligence and courage were inspiring. I immediately thought our students should read her story and some of the others, for a lot of reasons. First, underdog stories are always compelling. Second, we had been thinking that "hyphenated Americans" would be a good topic for summer reading at D-E, especially since our community is so diverse. And with the tenth anniversary of 9/11 coming up, we thought it would be good to give students a chance to reflect on the experience of Muslim Americans and to examine attitudes toward this group."
Daly continues, "We're pairing this book with a novel called Somebody's Daughter about a young woman adopted by an American family from Korea. She knows nothing about her birth country, so she goes back to learn the language and culture, and eventually to look for her birth mother. It's also a great story that I think the students will enjoy, and it will be chance for our many Korean students to taslk about their culture and experiences."
For student Nisreen Yonis, who is Muslim American, Dwedar's visit also symbolized much more than a Summer Reading List preview. She comments, "Many people around the world have misunderstood the significance of the Islamic hijab (veil). The hijab acts as a visible manifestation of a Muslim woman's piety and modesty. The hijab is more about expression rather than oppression. I identify with Yasmin’s struggle as I try to immerse myself both into a Dwight-Englewood distantly familiar with my culture and religion and a country that mistakes me for the enemy."
Yonis adds, "Yasmin Dwedar's visit to [D-E] was so important because it helped reveal to the community the complex individual behind the many stereotypes that are plaguing Muslims in the United States of America. Her story helps offer a window into a domain mirrored by the prejudice of media outlets and complicated by misunderstandings. I hope that [our] combined [Assembly] testimony bridged the distance between American society and a community that is constantly talked about, but never heard from. Despite what Muslim women have suffered and continue to endure, we maintain hope for an America where we can live in peace, justice, fairness, and freedom. Yasmin Dwedar's presentation was a representation of the tentative resistance of a besieged generation, as well as their determination to force America to be true to its promises even if it means confronting prejudice in its practice.”