Citadel Military College Denies Student’s Request to Wear Hijab with Uniform
A female student admitted to the Citadel Military College in South Carolina will not be allowed to wear a hijab with her uniform. The young woman’s request was filed in the beginning of April. The school’s president, Lt Gen John Rosa, issued a statement on the school website on Tuesday, saying, “uniformity is the cornerstone” of the school, and that “The standardization of cadets in apparel, overall appearance, actions and privileges is essential to the learning goals and objectives of the college.” While he denied the request to wear religious headgear, he stressed the fact that the school offers other ways of practicing faith and expressed his hope that the girl will still attend the school this coming fall.
To many people, it came as a surprise that the school actually took the time to consider a deviation from its custom of strict uniformity and anonymity–for some it was a provocation, for others a positive sign of progress. The Citadel is one of the oldest military schools in the United States and has never made an exception from its standard uniform in its 175-year history. However, the school does have other ways to see to students differing religious needs, such as places of worship and special food for those with religious dietary restrictions.
A Facebook post from a current student, Nick Pinelli, initially drew attention to the issue. He argued that if a person practicing one religion is granted different treatment it would undermine the point of the school and be the opposite of equality. In the post, Pinelli wrote, “Equality means the same set of rules for everyone. Not different rules for different people.” He has reportedly been punished with 33 hours of marching since first speaking out.
The girl’s family is considering legal actions. According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, wearing the hijab is a religious obligation for Muslims. And as a gender professor points out to NPR, this can also be seen as a feminist issue, with the fact that she is a woman potentially making her fight even harder.
The Citadel educates students in leadership skills, which does not necessarily have to lead to a military career. Out of the roughly 2,300 students, only about 170 are women. They didn’t start admitting women until 1996 so that number–as well as religious diversity–may increase in the coming years.