THORNDIKE — For this year’s “Would you still be my friend if I dressed like this?” day at Mount View High School, Caitlin Picard wore a hijab, the traditional headscarf worn by Muslim women.
And the senior learned the answer from some of her peers was no.

Picard, who has applied to Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said one student told her she looked like Osama bin Laden, another asked if she was a terrorist and another asked if she had a bomb beneath the head covering.

Picard, 17, said the annual themed day is generally lighthearted; last year she wore a trash bag that she had fashioned into a dress.

This year, the Troy resident said she wanted to take a more serious approach.

“The thought behind it was that if I was a new student and I came in expressing a religion that’s different than most, would people still like me,” Picard asked. “I made a lot of people uncomfortable. They looked at me differently.”

The Pew Forum on Religious & Public Life in 2010 estimated there were 1.57 billion Muslims on the planet. Islam is the second-largest religion in the world; Christianity has just more than 2 billion, according to www.religioustolerance.org.

Picard, a daughter of Dennis and Sharon Picard, said she was nervous while she waited for the bus wearing the hijab that her Muslim aunt gave her for Christmas.

“It was not my intention to be offensive or poke fun,” Picard said. “I chose to wear the hijab because it is an obvious symbol.”

In some Islamic societies it’s customary for women to dress modestly in public. In others it’s required, and in still other countries it’s illegal to wear hijabs.

Picard said not all of the reaction was bad. She said that a devout Christian friend told her that he was impressed with her bravery and that he would be her friend.

Picard said she was called to Vice Principal Tom Lynch’s office and told that some students had reported they were offended by Picard’s attire.

First-year Mount View Principal Cheri Towle said several students told her that they were concerned that Picard’s attire might be offensive to practicing Muslims.

“Nobody (other students) felt threatened,” Towle said. “No one came to me saying they were scared.”

Picard later spoke with Towle about the possibility of holding a cultural diversity awareness day at school in March.

Next week, she’s slated to attend a staff meeting to talk about what such a day might include.

“I’ve learned that if there’s a problem and you ignore it, you’re not doing anything to bring about change,” Picard said. “I’ve learned to change something, you have to meet it head on and do something positive about it.”

Towle said “we’re predominantly a white school” and it’s good to have an understanding of a host of ethnicities, cultures, religions and histories.

That understanding of diversity is also part of the school’s mission statement. It says the school “will strive to prepare our students to become responsible members of the world community.”

The school district comprises Brooks, Freedom, Jackson, Knox, Liberty, Monroe, Montville, Thorndike, Troy, Unity and Waldo.

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