The Citadel, a 175 year-old military public college located in Charleston, has recently received a lot of attention over issuing a denial to a student who wished to incorporate a hijab into her uniform, in keeping with her religious beliefs.
The Citadel has a very strict dress code based on the idea that cadets should leave behind most of their possessions and marks of individuality in order to establish opinions, beliefs, and reputations based solely on personal character. This extends to some forms of religious expression. Although the school makes exceptions for prayer times and religious-based dietary needs, and provides transportation for students to reach mosques, churches, and synagogues, the display of religious symbols on uniforms is not encouraged. Christian cadets are not permitted to display crosses on their uniforms; Jewish cadets cannot display the Star of David.
A student’s request to wear a hijab was the first uniform exception ever considered by staff in the Citadel’s history, sparking intense debate over the fairness, morality, and implications of allowing the exception.
While some in the corps were pleased by the idea of allowing the student to wear the hijab, stating it would promote tolerance and diversity, some believed that making uniform exceptions for one religion and not for any others would be a display of unfairness, as cadets of other religions are not allowed to display religious symbols. Others were also opposed to the idea because they believed that it went against the fundamental goals of the uniform policy, such as the promotion of unity and teamwork.
Citadel president John Rosa said in a statement that the college determined that an exception would not be made for the student to wear the hijab, citing the school’s intense emphasis on uniformity as the reason for the decision.
The Citadel’s denial of an exception for the hijab has caused quite a stir among groups in support and in dissent towards the decision. According to an article written in the Washington Post, the family of the student is now considering all of its legal options.
In spite of the Citadel’s decision, the institution reportedly still hopes that the student, who had recently been accepted into the school, will choose to attend in the fall.