The jersey hijab Ro’aa Alkhawaja wore in high school drew ire and ill-informed questions from her classmates who sometimes assumed she was a refugee displaced from war, and the headscarf was an oppressive tool she was obligated to wear out of fear. That it somehow limited her physical and intellectual capabilities — her freedom.
But for Ro’aa, the hijab is an empowering symbol that signifies the love she has for her Muslim faith and the modesty and humility of character “I strive for inwardly.”
“But people saw me as a stereotype and never really put the effort into truly understanding me,” said Alkhawaja, whose parents are Palestinian. “I had to compromise my identity and constantly explain who I was. I felt like a spectacle. … It was very dehumanizing, and I didn’t feel like I ever belonged.”
But at UC Berkeley, Alkhawaja, a first-year astrophysics major, has found an inclusive academic community in a class where she said her identity isn’t just viewed in the context of violent generalizations, but as part of a rich and vibrant history that should be understood and explored.
Taught by Berkeley history professor Ussama Makdisi, the course, History 100 M Special Topics: Palestine and the Palestinians: A Modern History, is using a unique lens to teach students about contemporary Palestinian history in the South Asian, Southwest Asian and North African regions — through the voices and experiences of Palestinian people.
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