When you find out that the Vermont-based Norwich University—America’s oldest private military education institution—allowed Sana Hamze, a Muslim woman, to wear the headscarf for the first time in its history, you may think of her as a pioneer. For Sana, it’s a part of something greater than herself.
A lifelong dream
For Sana, enlisting is a lifelong dream. Aspiring to both continue her family’s legacy of military and public service while staying true to her devout religious beliefs, she asked for a uniform accommodation to wear the hijab when she was applying to colleges earlier this year. Norwich, one of the nation’s six senior military colleges, agreed to make the accommodation.
“I don’t really see it as me changing the world or changing the U.S., even,” she said during an interview on the Norwich parade ground. “I just kind of see it as the school allowing an American student to practice her faith while also training to be an officer in the Navy.”
Inspiration and motivation
As a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf in the United States during an era of Islamophobia and rampant prejudice against members of the faith, she sometimes experiences hostile stares and comments while wearing her hijab in public—she was mindful of this when deciding to enroll at the military college. “It doesn’t scare me because I know what I’m doing is not to harm anyone,” she said. “I know what I’m doing is to actually protect the country. I’m joining the task force that protects this country.” This passionate commitment to military service is rooted in family history and tradition: Hamze’s great-grandmother was in the Air Force, two of her grandparents met while serving in the Navy in Puerto Rico, and her father is a police officer in Florida.
A real pioneer
Ali Shahidy, a Muslim and senior civilian student at Norwich from Afghanistan, said he had met Hamze and attended a religious service with her at a nearby mosque, but did not know her well; nevertheless, he thinks she’s a leader—even if she doesn’t yet currently see herself that way.
“I am definitely sure there will be students in the future like her (and) it will encourage other Muslim students who have the ambition to serve their country in the military yet are concerned about their look and their hijab,” he said.
Not all universities were so accepting. Her request for uniform accommodations had been previously rejected by The Citadel, The Military College in Charleston, South Carolina—the original military college she had hoped to attend. Norwich University, however, was quick to provide accommodations, and also allows Jewish men to wear a yarmulke along with their uniforms.
Despite of all these obstacles, her focus is on learning details of life as a “rook” at Norwich’s Corps of Cadets and not running afoul of the many rules and customs that new students are required to master.
As do all aspiring members of the corps, she has learned to walk at the side of the pathways, make square corners when turning, line up before eating, and sleep when she is told to. Like her freshman classmates, she yearns for the time when her class is recognized, the rook restrictions end, and they become official members of the Corps of Cadets. For many, San Hamze is an exemplary pioneer.