Razan Kalaaji follows family tradition.
Her father moved from Syria to Fort Collins to study engineering and never left. Most of Kalaajiâ€™s family still lives in Syria and elsewhere overseas. She is a Fort Collins native.
Kalaaji, an undeclared sophomore, follows another tradition: She is Muslim. Her religion is something that has been publicized in the news every day but rarely examined on a personal level.
â€œThereâ€™s Muslims from every country, from every ethnicity and from every background,â€ said Kalaaji, former president of CSUâ€™s Muslim Student Association.
The organization, which provides information about Islam and its tradition, hosted an event known as Freedom to Veil, where speakers discussed the hijab, a Muslim headscarf worn by women as a sign of modesty.
â€œI liked the message behind it, that a woman can be seen for more than her beauty, that the mind is more important,â€ said Kalaaji, who has worn a hijab since middle school.
Her modest dress has a modern style: a bright yellow hijab coupled with yellow ballet flat shoes.
No matter how fashion-forward she appears, the stigma brought on by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, which brought down the World Trade Center towers exactly nine years ago, are still prevalent.
â€œSometimes when people look at me, I donâ€™t even feel like they see a face, they just see the scarf,â€ Kalaaji said.
Mona Elkady, a senior at Poudre High School and CSU-hopeful, is Muslim and said she dealt with ignorance and prejudice like many others.
Instead of hiding away, Elkady confronted the stares by talking to people and letting them experience her cheerful personality.
â€œThey need to realize that Iâ€™m a person,â€ Elkady said. â€œI like this, I like that. Iâ€™m not a religion. Iâ€™m not everyone else in that religion too.â€
Jamal Kamandy, a junior political science major and vice president of CSUâ€™s Young Americans for Liberty, is outspoken about being Muslim and regularly speaks and writes on truth about Islam and what it teaches.
He plans on speaking to five different ethnic studies classes and to larger crowds on campus to foster open communication between Muslims and non-Muslims.
â€œWe are becoming tolerant of stereotypes, and I think that that sends the wrong message to the people who are creating these stereotypes in the first place,â€ Kamandy said.
The recent controversies involving an Islamic center near Ground Zero of the 9/11 attacks and threats to publicly burn the Quran from Florida pastor Terry Jones have perpetuated the problem.
â€œItâ€™s just kind of sad how most Americans advocate the Constitution, advocate freedoms and yet are so willing to revoke those freedoms and rights from a group that they donâ€™t understand and quite honestly donâ€™t care to understand,â€ Kamandy said.
Kaalaji returned from a summer in Syria to hear of these events and was shocked at the media firestorm.
â€œI came here and it felt like a giant slap in the face,â€ she said.
Optimism still exists despite the bleak circumstances. Kalaaji believes once election season is over, things will be better.
â€œI am an American. This is my home,â€ Kalaaji said.
Crime Reporter Rachel Childs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.