Letter to the Editor: Headline, caption misrepresent article’s message

I want to thank you for printing the extensive and interesting article on Muslim students at NU (“Removing the shroud,” Feb. 1). I think, overall, the article was helpful in bringing the post-September 11 situation of Muslim students into greater awareness.

However, the thoughtful and often empathetic content of the article was undermined by the sensationalistic headline. The glaring words “REMOVING THE SHROUD,” juxtaposed against the graphic image of a fully veiled woman’s eyes, served only to contradict the message of the article and to reinforce some of the most common stereotypes, prejudices and misconceptions about Muslims in America.

The content of the article was not about students at NU being under a shroud, or removing some veil of mystery. In fact, the article wasn’t about “shrouds” at all (the primary definition of which is a burial cloth for the dead), or about face-veiled women (a stereotyped cultural practice Islamic scriptural injunctions do not require). The article was about a group of our peers here on campus and the question asked in the sub-headline, “Where do we fit in?”

A closer look at the content of the article does communicate this truer picture: that Muslims on campus are regular students taking classes, working jobs and co-ops, traveling home and hanging out with friends, just like everyone. They come from all over the world, but, as often as not, they are born and raised here in the U.S. in “the house next door.” They are dealing with some extra challenges because of the fallout from September 11 and the Patriot Act, and the article admirably tried to help the NU community understand this.

Words and images have meaning. The meanings you subtly communicate through graphics can affect community attitudes, and even inadvertently harm people you know. In this case, the effect of your headline and graphic was to sensationalize, exoticize and set a student community apart as a kind of strange hidden “other.” I urge you to use your editorial powers in a more thoughtful and consistent way, and to not undermine the positive effects of your articles with headlines and images that may be eye-catching, but are inaccurate and negative in their impact.

– Shelli Jankowski-Smith is the Director of Spiritual Life.

Leave a Reply