I cannot thank everyone enough for the thoughtful suggestions I got from this post. I got DOZENS of responses in just the past couple of days. Many of you asked to me to let you know what I find.
Speaking with some Muslim females that I know about this topic, I am learning that the reason our warnings about wearing cotton clothing in the lab are not being applied to the hijabs/shaylas is because of how they view these scarves. For them, it is part of who they are, not a piece of clothing or accessory. It is like their hair. And, to them, hair can catch fire, too. Those of us who do not know much about this culture need to recognize this very important view that they have. So, it seems the best approach is to discuss the hijab (no matter what type....shayla, niqab, or any others) very specifically with the individual students even if you have a policy that says that students cannot wear synthetic clothing in the lab. Once again, in a manner that is sure not to give the impression that you are asking them not to wear one, just that they have to wear one that fits safety requirements (such as not hanging freely or being made of a natural fiber in an organic chemis!
try lab or not loose hanging in a machine shop).
Here are SUMMARIES of some very good advice I received as a result of this inquiry to the CHAS Listserv:
*I just had a long discussion with 4 of my student assistants...They say that cotton hijabs are very readily available to be purchased locally in any Muslim community.
*I followed up with a Muslim female faculty member who is an organic chemist. She said it is not unusual to require any Muslim to wear an appropriate hijab depending on the situation. There is a less full version of an hijab made out of cotton called AL-Amira hijab. It is less flowing and shorter in the neck area and is made out of cotton so it clings to the clothing underneath it and it doesn't move about freely like the rayon ones. She often will pull students aside and tell them that theirs is not an appropriate hijab to wear in chemistry and then that's it.
*The way around the niqab (face veil) is asking the students to wear cotton dental masks or P99 dust masks from the pharmacy. Super cheap and still effective. As for the Shayla (head scarf), we cannot ask the students to not wear them, and there is no good alternative. For women, if their shaylas hang down, they must be tucked into the lab coat.
*I guess you have to approach it like you would wearing sandals or shorts in lab. All hijabs for safety reasons must be made of cotton. It is a very simple and important statement!
*Another suggestion would be a cotton lab coat and a full face shield with everything about the hijab tucked into the cotton coat.
***Balaclava could be used to cover as a flame resistant hood if they do want to wear the synthetic ones and wear something over it as we do the lab coat: https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__www.grainger.com_category_ecatalog_N-2D1z0dv4z&d=BQIFAg&c=lb62iw4YL4RFalcE2hQUQealT9-RXrryqt9KZX2qu2s&r=meWM1Buqv4IQ27AlK1OJRjcQl09S1Zta6YXKalY_Io0&m=aHtMZuvpZW-923b2nncsT8qmALRrstQKBAKuhj3azjs&s=WDOADPgRd5dvRQ8DTkelvXnGUw-P2YM_wlj0Lb1It-o&e=
***For machining/engineering issues, some recommend the sport hijab: https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.dezeen.com_2011_06_07_sports-2Dhijab-2Dby-2Dresporton_&d=BQIFAg&c=lb62iw4YL4RFalcE2hQUQealT9-RXrryqt9KZX2qu2s&r=meWM1Buqv4IQ27AlK1OJRjcQl09S1Zta6YXKalY_Io0&m=aHtMZuvpZW-923b2nncsT8qmALRrstQKBAKuhj3azjs&s=aYcdy4To6tz0ICsB36Qypsj2enkmR4eQXMgYgAmARiU&e= - I will be sharing this information with the Engineering and Art departments on my campus.
Thank you all for such a great discussion of the topic,
From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**med.cornell.edu] On Behalf Of Wilhelm, Monique
Sent: Tuesday, December 08, 2015 9:56 AM
Subject: [DCHAS-L] Synthetic Hijabs in Labs
The wearing of synthetic hijabs in labs is a growing concern in my dept and we want to be sure to address the issue in a culturally sensitive manner. However, none of us is Muslim and so we are seeking input. We ask students not to wear synthetic clothing to lab. Some still do and we don't really have a means to monitor and aren't very concerned because we require a lab coat with at least 35% cotton that happens to cover the clothing in case of a spill or fire. But, the lab coat does not cover any head covering.
We recently had a fire in our organic lab and had a student who should have been right near the fire who was wearing a synthetic hijab that day. She immediately realized how devastating it would have been had she been at her hood when her partner's materials caught fire. And, we all agree.
So, I am looking to others to determine how you address this issue. We don't want to suggest in any way that they don't wear a hijab (they have enough pressures from society in this regard as of late)....just that they wear a cotton one or if there is something available to cover it like the lab coat covers the shirts.
I appreciate any and all input you may have, especially if you are one with experience wearing a hijab in a lab setting.
Laboratory Supervisor/Adjunct Lecturer/Chem Club Co-Advisor Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry University of Michigan-Flint Flint, MI 48502
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