MONTPELIER, Vt. – A Muslim high school student from Florida who hopes to become a Navy officer is going to attend Norwich University after the Vermont military school said it would allow her to wear her headscarf beneath her uniform.
Sana Hamze had initially hoped to attend The Citadel, but the Charleston, South Carolina, school would not change its uniform policy to accommodate her headscarf. The 17-year-old from Sunrise, Florida, said she chose Norwich, which touts itself as the nation's oldest private military college and the birthplace of ROTC, after the school agreed to her request.
Sana said Wednesday she was caught off guard by media attention that followed her efforts to attend a military college while staying true to her Muslim faith.
"My goal is still to go to Norwich and be an officer, a naval officer. It doesn't change anything," she said.
Sana's father, Nezar Hamze, said his daughter never sought publicity, but he felt she should publicly thank Norwich school for its decision.
"As a father I can't tell you the pressure that's off my shoulders that she's actually being accepted and they're letting her practice her faith," said Nezar Hamze.
Norwich, located in the town of Northfield, has a total on-campus student body of about 2,250. About two-thirds of students are in the Corps of Cadets, its military program, while the rest are civilians who don't participate in military training. The students sit side-by-side in classrooms, though they have separate residences.
Norwich officials said privacy rules prevented them from confirming that Sana had agreed to attend, though she showed The Associated Press some correspondence from Norwich that confirmed her plans.
Last week, Norwich President Richard Schneider sent a message to the college community saying the school had agreed to accommodate a request from an accepted female student to wear a hijab beneath her uniform.
While Sana was not named in the letter it said the student who had made the request was told the "religious headgear" must be in "authorized colors and fabrics that can be covered" by the uniform.
"As educators of future leaders, it is our duty to matriculate a diverse student body that reflects our society," Schneider wrote. "Norwich prepares traditional students and the young men and women of our Corps of Cadets to welcome and respect diversity and to be inclusive of all people."
Norwich spokeswoman Daphne Larkin said Wednesday the reaction from Norwich alumni and others was "mixed, but generally positive."
Norwich was founded in 1819 by a former West Point instructor. It's considered the birthplace of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, which prepares students to become officers in the armed forces. In April, top military leaders visited the school to help celebrate the centennial of college ROTC.