Nasro Hassan, an 18-year-old student studying computer science at the University of Washington, spoke to the press Tuesday about being attacked on November 15 while walking out of Mary Gates Hall around 5:45 p.m. She confirms that she was alone, looking down at her cell phone and unaware of her surroundings, when a man in a black hooded sweatshirt and dark jeans ran up to her and slammed the right side of her face, near her eye, with a glass bottle. She remembers a “sharp ringing in my head” immediately afterward and that the suspect was laughing as he ran off.
Like the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Washington (CAIR-WA) and the UW police, Hassan knows that she can’t be sure that the attack was an anti-Muslim hate crime (of which there was sharp uptick nationwide in recent years). But the thought ran through her head immediately afterward. “I was shocked, I was taken aback,” she says. “Why was this happening? Was it because of the hijab I was wearing?… Because of all the Trump protests that had been happening on campus?”
This physical assault was nothing like anything Hassan had experienced before. But she was frequently bullied in elementary and middle school for wearing a hijab (she grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, and moved to the Seattle area when she was 10). “People were always making fun of me,” she says. But at the time, it was just words. “I always thought, ‘Oh, it’s nothing, it’s not gonna hurt me.’”
Now, she’s less sure. She’s considering scheduling her classes earlier in the day next semester, so she’ll have fewer reasons to be on campus after dark. She and her peers, especially female friends, are looking out for one another now, making sure that no one lets anyone walk alone at night. But she’s received an outpouring of support from friends and family and community following the assault — even, she says with surprise in her voice, a note from a high school counselor — and believes that coming out publicly about her experience can only help others (and possibly help identify her attacker). She would never not wear a hijab out of fear. “You gotta show them that you’re better than that,” she says. “You can’t take this away from me.”
Hassan’s mother, Dahabo Hassan, the mother of 11 children, including five girls, and the owner of a small grocery store near Sea-Tac, says that when she learned her daughter Nasro had been hurt, she was afraid of the worst — “it was really, really scary… I was crying, really crying a lot” — and was relieved to discover that Nasro was OK, that there were no broken bones. She now drives her other daughters to school instead of letting them take the bus.
Though a physical attack like this is utterly new and horrifying, Dahabo says that she’s also been verbally harassed in Seattle and elsewhere for her appearance. One recent day, she was stopped at a four-way intersection when a woman standing across the street hurled a nasty slur at her and said, “You should go back home, you don’t belong here.” But Dahabo told the woman, “Thank you. Thank you so much for tell[ing] me that.” That counter-intuitive approach forced the woman to see her own words differently, Dahabo says, and apologize. “I mean, we are all human beings,” she says. “We are same. We have same feelings, same emotions, everything… Please… let us be a human being, all of us, and also take care of each other.”
Nasro Hassan says she’s firm in her decision to speak publicly about this recent attack “because other [Muslim] girls need to know that it’s OK to speak out, that you can get help; without you putting yourself out there, there’s nothing that will be done.”
If she could say anything to the person who hit her a few weeks ago, she’d just ask why. “Please just explain to me,” she implores, “why you have this hatred? [Why] you feel the need to hit someone?”