The Muslim Los Osos High School student who was misidentified as “Isis” in the yearbook said on Monday that her safe space had been violated and her senior year tarnished by the response to the incident.
“I’m disappointed,” said Bayan Zehlif, 17, exhausted after a long day of media interviews at the Anaheim office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “I’m really sad I couldn’t end the year with my friends, or at least the friends I have left.”
The controversy erupted Saturday after Zehlif took to Facebook to register her dismay regarding her yearbook listing, which she had originally planned to buy on Monday.
“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,” Zehlif posted on Facebook.
The yearbook staff, principal and school district have all apologized.
On Monday, Zehlif said she couldn’t assume that the misprint was intentional, but that it was coincidental.
Isis, originally the name for an ancient Egyptian goddess, has been a popular name for girls in America for more than 20 years, before it was adopted as an acronym for the terrorist group that has called itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“If you’re labeled as ISIS, you’re causing terrorism,” Zehlif said. “The way you present yourself and the way you look, you’re un-normal to “people who conflate Islamic State with all Muslims.
Los Osos students got their first look at the yearbooks Friday and knew how the misprint would look to adults, according to senior Shane Althaus.
“We could guess that this was going to blow up,” he said.
Althaus was taken aback by the misprint himself but said this year’s yearbook is riddled with errors.
“I’ve talked to people who were in yearbook, and they were showing a bunch of other examples where there were misprints,” he said. “At first, I thought, ‘This is too coincidental to be a mistake,’ but there’s a lot of mistakes this year.”
Zehlif is not the only student left with a yearbook with their name misprinted: Student Lorenzo Monta complained on Twitter that he was listed as “Montana,” not “Monta.”
“Please make a new story on my name,” he tweeted. “It was a typo, too.”
Although Phillips formerly attended Los Osos — and her picture appears opposite Zehlif’s in the yearbook, under the name “Trinity Wilkes” — she transferred to another campus earlier this year, according to Chaffey Joint Union High School District Superintendent Mat Holton.
“There’s definitely some sort of series of mistakes,” Holton said Monday. “The motive behind it, if there is one or not, is still being investigated.”
Officials aren’t yet sure what they’re going to do to fix the problem yearbooks, which Zehlif would like to see reprinted.
Two hundred and eighty-seven yearbooks have been distributed to seniors, but school officials are holding onto the rest until a solution is worked out.
Zehlif said after news of the misprint went public and she said she felt shocked and hurt by it, some of her friends sided with the students who created the yearbook – accusing Zehlif of trying to damage the school.
“I did try my best to be kind to everyone at school,” she said. “For something like this to happen … it really hurt.”
The senior, who wants to be a speech pathologist and work with children, said many people at Los Osos have attacked her on social media. On Monday, Zehlif said, she saw a video of students tearing down a poster at the school supporting her.
Los Osos High is only 7 miles away from Summit High School in Fontana, where last month, hijab-wearing Muslim student Zarifeh Shalabi was elected prom queen. It was the very first school dance for Shalabi, who comes from a conservative Palestinian-born family. Her non-Muslim friends had worn hijabs to school as part of their campaign for her to win homecoming queen.
Over the past year, violence against Muslims in America has soared, according to a new report from Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. The report documented about 180 reported incidents of anti-Muslim violence between March 2015 and March 2016, including a dozen murders, 24 physical assaults, 49 verbal assaults or threats, 56 acts of vandalism, nine arsons and eight shootings or bombings.
Last month, the Southern Poverty Law Center released “The Trump Effect,” a report linking heightened levels of fear and anxiety among students of color and a heightening of racial and ethnic tensions at schools nationwide to the presidential campaign of candidate Donald Trump, who has called from barring Muslims from entering the country until some future date.
While Zehlif would not say whether she thinks the misprint was intentional, choosing instead to wait for the school to finish its investigation, she did say she could tell from past statements about 9/11 and people of the Islamic faith in general over her past three years at Los Osos that there are both students and teachers at the school “who didn’t like Muslims.”
Holton said he’s unaware of any incidents of Islamophobia at the Los Osos campus or in the Chaffey district.
“There certainly didn’t seem to be anything like that,” he said.
History and government teacher Erik Pielstick, who advises the Los Osos Muslim Student Association, said Muslim students are treated well on the 3,100-student campus.
“It seems to me that the climate here (on campus) has been pretty good,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to me that Muslim students are facing a lot of problems.”
Pielstick believes the yearbook misprint was an error but understands that it hurt Zehlif and her family.
“I don’t believe there was any sort of intentional action on the part of anybody on the yearbook staff,” Pielstick said. “It was a mistake that was an offensive thing. None of the Muslim kids would want to be associated with that.”
Zehlif, who at times on Monday looked on the verge of tears, said she likely won’t go back to the school, where she has been for three years, because she is afraid of what might happen.
And, with finals set to start Friday, she is having trouble focusing.
“As of right now, I’m not studying for finals,” Zehlif said. “I can’t handle it.”
But she does plan on walking across that graduation stage May 19 – especially with family members flying in from Jordan.
“They’ll be proud to know I kept my head up high,” she said. “But I’m scared people will call me names.”