Following Up on Our March/April Cover Story
It’s been a month since our March/April issue hit Alumni Association members’ mailboxes—plenty of time, in other words, for readers to share their opinions. Not surprisingly, we’ve heard from plenty of them: dozens of emails (quite a bit more than we usually get, certainly) and a handful of phone calls and handwritten letters, the tone of which has been pretty evenly split between those who are upset or angry about our cover story on the lives and experiences of Muslim students at Penn State, and those who are proud and supportive.
We will of course run many of those letters in our May/June issue, but I thought it was worth writing here to say a bit more about the students themselves. The roundtable conversation that led to the feature was pulled together with the help of May Ayad, a junior graphic design major and current president of the Muslim Students Association. Our curiosity had been sparked by the MSA’s “Free Pizza Friday” giveaways, and once we contacted Ayad, she was able round up a few of her classmates to join the conversation.
The pizza giveaway is just one outreach activity of the MSA, which was created to “unite the Muslim body and integrate with the State College community.” Ayad and Hamsa Fayed, a senior international politics major and the MSA’s events coordinator, were featured in February in a USA Today article on the MSA’s “Day in Her Hijab” event, which gave students from any religious or ethnic background the chance to experience what it’s like to wear the traditional Muslim head covering on an American college campus.
They’re not the only MSA members making news: Zico Khayat, a junior studying biological sciences, was recently featured on Voice of America news for his efforts to help found a Penn State chapter of Alpha Lambda Mu, considered the nation’s first Muslim fraternity. Zico made a point of wearing traditional formal garb in our photo shoot, but the State College townie told us he generally only does so on special occasions; when I ran into him last week at State College High School, where he was helping out with an elementary school volleyball tournament my son was playing in, he was wearing a T-shirt and basketball high-tops.
Then there’s Ramisa Fariha, one of just a handful of Bangladeshi students at Penn State, and probably one of the sharpest students on campus. A junior in the Schreyer Honors College studying biomedical engineering (which we mistakenly referred to as “biomechanical” in the feature—sorry about that, Ramisa), she started out at Penn State Behrend, where she was named the campus’s Outstanding First-Year Student in 2014. Finally, Khaled Enab is something of an outlier in this group: A grad student working toward his Ph.D. in energy and mineral engineering, Enab is married with two young children.
As a group, they don’t represent the entirety of Muslim experience on campus, let alone the United States. But with due respect to those readers who disagreed, we felt (and still do) that theirs was a perspective worth sharing. I hope their decency, intelligence, and thoughtfulness came through in the story. They’re proud to be Penn Staters, and I’m proud we’ve got that in common.
Ryan Jones, senior editor