Wheaton College begins process of firing professor who wore hijab
Dr. Larycia Hawkins is a tenured political science professor at Wheaton College, a protestant evangelical liberal arts college located just west of Chicago. Hawkins was hired by Wheaton in 2007 as an assistant professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations. In 2014 she was promoted to associate professor and awarded tenure. Hawkins is the first African-American female to be tenured at Wheaton College, which was founded by fervent abolitionists back in 1860. In 1866 Wheaton graduated its first African-American, Edward Sellers. It also had the only college-level women's program in Illinois at this time. Hawkins wrote on her Facebook page that Muslims and Christians worship the same God and that she was donning a hijab head scarf during the advent period before Christmas to show solidarity with Muslims. The statement drew criticism that resulted in her being placed on administrative leave and later to a notice from the provost of the university to the president recommending that her employment with Wheaton be terminated.
The document from Wheaton recommending her termination can be found here with links to other statements by the administration of the Hawkins' case. The notice claims Dr. Hawkins had declined to participate in further dialogue about the theological implications of her public statements. Hawkins has often said she is committed to orthodox Protestant Christianity and affirmed her belief in the Wheaton College Statement of Faith required of all staff. Hawkins would not be the first professor to be in hot water for diverging from the theological requirements of the college. In 2004, assistant professor of philosophy Joshua Hochschild was dismissed when he became a Roman Catholic. In 2008 professor Ken Gramm in the English Department resigned after he refused to give details about his planned divorce to the administration. Wheaton actually has quite a good reputation among U.S. liberal arts colleges but these events show the constant tension between the theological requirements of a private religiously-based college and the basically secular nature of a liberal arts education. Hawkins, in one of her statements said:
“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” This action was interpreted by some as theological assent to Islam.This position is surely held by many scholars both Christian and Muslim. However, Hawkins is hardly advancing her cause by using Pope Francis as an authority on theology when she is teaching in a protestant evangelical college. However, even more irritating no doubt to many who support the school, was her wearing of the hijab. She insists this is simply meant to show solidarity with Muslims in response to what she considers increasing Islamophobia and a growing U.S. backlash against Muslims after a California couple killed 14 people in California in early December. It is not meant to indicate she is in any way a Muslim.
Hawkins has support among some students and faculty at Wheaton, who began a social media campaign under the hashtag #reinstatedochawk. The group wants to pressure the administration to reverse their decision to start termination proceedings. As a private college, no doubt Wheaton depends upon the continued financial support of donors who may have conservative social and theological views. The college administration may face a situation where they actually would prefer to keep Hawkins but for financial reasons feel they cannot afford to do so. When the philosophy professor Hochschild was dismissed, the president said that personally he wanted him to stay on but that Hochschild's actions violated the Wheaton Statement of Faith. While Hawkins insists that all her actions are motivated by her Christian faith and she is an orthodox Protestant, it remains to be seen whether the authorities deciding her fate will agree with her and keep her on as a faculty member.