Honoring Nabra and Addressing Trauma

Artwork by Mohammad Alsalti

At 17, Nabra Hassanen was a rising junior at South Lakes High School, oldest sister of four, and excited about her new nose ring. A Muslim, Nabra attended her mosque, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Virginia, frequently during Ramadan. Like many teenagers who also attended services at the mosque during Ramadan, Nabra and her friends walked to get breakfast before beginning their fast at sunrise. Walking back to the mosque with her friends in her mother’s abaya, traditional Muslim clothing, and her own hijab, Nabra and her friends were confronted by a motorist with a baseball bat. Police believe that a man identified as Darwin Martinez Torres assaulted Nabra, and her body was found 11 hours later.
Although not investigated as a hate crime, incidents like this are far from unusual for Muslim women and girls who are vulnerable to Islamophobia and sexism. At a time when hate crimes are surging, it’s the most vulnerable communities and people who are hurt the most. For Muslim girls, schools and other public spaces often end up as sites where Islamophobia and sexism flourish, leaving them susceptible to violence. Just last month, two young girls were berated on a train with anti-Muslim rhetoric in Portland, Oregon. At a time when anti-Muslim policies and sexist rhetoric from prominent political figures embolden hate groups, it’s especially crucial that schools and government officials take concrete steps to create safe environments for  Muslim students and communities.
While Nabra’s assault didn’t happen in school, it is imperative that administrators at South Lake High take steps to address this incident through avenues like culturally sensitive crisis counseling. As a 20-year-old South Asian girl who could have been friends with Nabra, I can’t begin to imagine the immense trauma her family and friends are currently experiencing. To best accommodate their needs, educators must understand the vast psychological and physical impact of trauma on students, especially girls of color. Understanding and affirming their commitments to ending sex- and race-based discrimination, as required under federal laws including Title IX and Title VI, can be a start.