Wheaton, hijab-wearing prof reach impasse in reconciliation attempt
by Leigh Jones
Posted 12/23/15, 03:40 pm
Wheaton College and a political-science professor on leave for theologically muddy comments about Christianity and Islam are at a stalemate in talks over her reinstatement.
Larycia Hawkins, who holds tenure at the evangelical college in Wheaton, Ill., resurrected an age-old debate earlier this month when she announced plans to show solidarity with Muslims by wearing a hijab, the Islamic head covering for women, during Advent. Her support stemmed in part from her belief that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, she said in a post on Facebook that invited others to join her campaign.
Support streamed in on social media, but Wheaton administrators were not impressed. They put Hawkins on paid leave through the spring semester, pending a full review. Hawkins said she wanted to reconcile with Wheaton so she could continue her teaching career.
But on Tuesday, she accused school administrators of trying to force her out.
“I was naively thinking they wanted to cooperate,” she told the Chicago Tribune. “I have tenure, and I have to fight for that.”
Hawkins claims she gave administrators a theological response to questions about her Facebook post, but she’s done trying to explain herself.
“What this intimates is I have no religious freedom to articulate my faith in a way that is wholly consistent with centuries of Christian theology and scholarship,” she said of claims that Christianity and Islam share common ground. “But all of a sudden I say it and it’s anathema.”
In a statement issued Tuesday, Wheaton administrators reiterated their desire for reconciliation.
“Extremely frank conversation and communication have taken place in recent days,” they said. “The college’s perspective is that additional theological clarification is necessary before Dr. Hawkins may resume her full duties. Regrettably, Dr. Hawkins has clearly stated her unwillingness to further participate in clarifying conversations.”
Administrators also rejected Hawkins’ claims about a forced resignation. They only suggested terms of a possible resignation at Hawkins’ request, the statement said.
“We have not asked her to resign and did not suggest that she do so. Although Dr. Hawkins and the college have begun discussions regarding the possibility of a voluntary resignation, those discussions have not yet been successful and may have reached an impasse,” the statement said.
Although Hawkins seemed surprised by the college’s response to her comments, this isn’t the first time she has clashed with administrators. Three times in the last nine years she’s been called in to explain herself in light of the college’s statement of faith. The first time involved a paper that suggested Christians could learn from liberation theology. The second time was over a photo taken of her at a party during Chicago’s gay pride parade. And the third time administrators asked her to explain her suggestion the university diversify its curriculum to include more diplomatic vocabulary in conversations about sexuality.
Hawkins now claims she’s no longer fighting for herself but for her colleagues.
“I may get nothing out of this," she told the Tribune. “This is about standing up for my colleagues. If I can be thrown under the statement of faith bus, so can they. Everyone is cast under a cloud of suspicion. If they say the wrong thing, how does one know?”
Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.