MIAD works with Muslim student to craft compromise built on tolerance

MILWAUKEE -- At the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, one student's participation in a required art course conflicted with her religious beliefs. Therefore, the student and the school worked to craft a compromise built on tolerance.

The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, or MIAD, rests in Milwaukee's Third Ward, but the hands of students never rest for long. Between a dust storm of chalk and charcoal, they develop their eyes and their ability to see and visually express bold and brilliant detail.

Fadwa Abulughod has a future in design, but her journey through art and education is a path students like her rarely travel.

"I've always had a passion for art, ever since I was little, which is very unconventional, especially in my community," Abulughod said.

Far from the often colorful art culture, Abulughod shows muted modesty in her mosque. She chants in Arabic and prays five times per day. She says the act brings her closer to God and demonstrates respect and humility -- two principals of Islam, and part of the reason she and other women wear head scarves.

"To basically emphasize modesty. It's not only the scarf -- it's the way I act around people and it's the way I look at people," Abulughod said.

The foundation of humility and creativity nearly clashed because of a foundational class for artists at MIAD. Figure Drawing is the study of the human form -- the basis of portraiture and medical illustration, traditionally using nude models.

"I knew in my heart it wasn't something I should be taking. It's not allowed, mainly because I cover myself. If I'm supposed to cover my body, why am I looking at an uncovered body? I was just hopeful that it would be resolved," Abulughod said.

Stacey Steinberg said it wasn't long before MIAD made changes to Abulughod's requirements. Steinberg says MIAD makes accommodations for students every semester, but religious compromises are a rarity.

"Your value system should not be a part of the education you receive, or that you're prevented from receiving," Steinberg said.

While MIAD says there was never any conflict when handling Abulughod's situation, Abulughod says she has artist friends who weren't as fortunate. 

"We can't say the same for other schools. I know people who wanted to go through the art program and completely dropped it. They felt like they couldn't ask, or take it at all, and there was no work around," Abulughod said.

Abulughod received a scholarship to attend MIAD, and says she's never felt discriminated against.

"I never felt discriminated against. I always felt comfortable in my classes. We don't really judge the person on who they are, but on what they create," Abulughod said.

"It certainly makes us feel good that she's felt that here," Steinberg said.

Abulughod is set to graduate from MIAD in May 2013.