May and June mark the time when high schools hand out yearbooks to students so that they can look back on their year and have their friends sign to encapsulate some of the most important years of their life. Usually, students are excited to look at the photos of themselves that made it into the yearbook, but this year one student was horrified when she found a cute picture of herself after she saw the caption.
Bayan Zehlif, a Muslim student at Los Osos High School, was identified as “Isis Phillips” in a caption under her photo in the yearbook.
It’s obvious why this would be extremely offensive to a young girl who wears a hijab in the midst of a tumultuous political climate, and Zehlif was rightfully angered. She took to Facebook and said,
“I am extremely saddened, disgusted, hurt and embarrassed that the Los Osos High School yearbook was able to get away with this. Apparently, I am ‘Isis’ in the yearbook. The school reached out to me and had the audacity to say that this was a typo. I beg to differ, let’s be real.”
The school was apologetic but also pointed out that they previously had an actual student named Isis Phillips until they transferred to another school district. The yearbook committee itself, which is made up of student editors, tweeted an apology and so did Principal Susan Petrocelli, who called the incident a “regrettable misprint.”
According to Petrocelli, only 287 of the yearbooks were distributed amongst the school’s 3,200 students and that the school is working with the publishing company to fix the issue.
It’s reported that Zehlif does not plan to return to school until the issue has been fixed. It’s likely that she is also hurt over the school’s attempt to dub the identification as a “typo.”
Many students are showing their support by posting on social media with a manual correction to the student’s real name, but not every student is as sensitive to the situation. Trevor Santellan, one of the students who worked on the yearbook, had this to say:
“If anything, she’s being racist against herself because she misinterpreted it and not us, because we thought of it as a beautiful name that parents gave to a kid. She obviously didn’t.”
Though there was a real student named Isis and the name by itself is beautiful, that’s not the problem in this situation and Santellan is overlooking the crucial issues at play.
The word “Isis” has been painted horribly in the media because of the terrorist group’s lethal activity in which they have taken hundreds of innocent people’s lives in the last few years. The fact that the people working on the yearbook saw this woman wearing a hijab, Bayan Zehlif, and thought that the name “Isis” was likely her name without cross-checking it has inherently racist undertones. That’s assuming that the “misprint” was accidental.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations Executive Director Hussam Ayloush sympathized with Zehlif, and said,
“We join with the family in their concern about a possible bias motive for this incident and in their deep concern for their daughter’s safety as a result of being falsely labeled as a member of a terrorist group. No student should have to face the humiliation of being associated with a group as reprehensible as ISIS.”