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Lifting the Veil: Three Students and Faculty Member Awarded Grant to Study Identity in Indonesia

by Becky Holcomb, staff writer

Three students from Wilson have been awarded a $23,000 grant to go to Aceh, Indonesia in order to study the implementation of Islamic law and how it affects female identity. The grant was awarded to Breanna Ryan, Libba Miano, and Annie Pryor through ASIANetwork. Every year, ASIANetwork hosts the freeman student-faculty fellows program, a program designed to promote research in Asian countries. Professor Siti Kusuijart recruited students from her class, Societies of Southeast Asia, last semester. According to Kusuijart, “I selected Ryan, Maino, and Pryor to work with because they showed enthusiasm and excelled academically in the course.”

The group leaves June 1 of this year and will be abroad for twenty-five days according to the grant.

Upon their return, the students and Kusuijart will be sharing their research next year at a conference for ASIANetwork in Tennessee.

The group started writing their proposal in November and submitted it in December of this year. Part of the process was deciding what country to go to and what research to conduct. They chose Aceh, Indonesia, a province of Indonesia that Kusuijart is from and deeply familiar with, having conducted research in the region previously looking at the effects of tsunamis on gender relations. After much discussion, the group decided to base their research on the implementation of Islamic law in this province, and how it affects Acehnese women in the construction of their identities. Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that has begun to implement Islamic law or Shari’ah, starting back in 1999. The group is interested in learning how women form their identities under this law. Each student will have a different area of focus. Maino will look at women activists in Aceh, and how activism, in addition to global and local political factors, affects identity.

Pryor will focus on the veil: how women construct their identities under a law where every Muslim woman is required by law to wear one. Pryor will also focus on the role of educational institutions in regards to female identity. In Aceh, women are educated in secular and religious schools. According to Kusuijart, this allows women to hold unexpected positions of power that Pryor will focus on.

Ryan will examine rural and urban differences, focusing primarily on how women differ in their perceptions of their identities under the implementation of Islamic law depending on location, modernization and urbanization.

A current theme that connects the group is the question of how women find alternative options and thrive under Islamic law. Pryor states on the subject, “I want to help challenge the negative stereotypes often associated with Muslims and Shari’ah Law. Veiling is not always a form of repression, as some would like to think. Shari’ah Law is not always and simply a system of patriarchy. I am thrilled to explore the various ways in which women of Aceh understand their own religion and its precepts.”

While abroad, the students will be partnered with university students from Aceh, who will help each individual in their chosen focus as well as enrich cultural understanding and ease possible language barriers. The group will do service projects within the area of their individualized focuses as part of their research.

Until their departure, they meet once a week. Miano, the senior of the group states, “I can’t wait, we’re already learning Indonesian, looking for suitable head coverings and making headway on our preliminary research within each of our sections.”

In addition to sharing their findings at the ASIANetwork conference next year, the team hopes to present their information with the Warren Wilson community upon their return. Ryan and Pryor will have the option of using their findings in their senior capstone projects. Miano, though graduating this year, will gain experience and knowledge in a field that deeply interests her.


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