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Larycia Hawkins (Facebook).

Follow up

The inside story of an evangelical college’s firing of a tenured professor for wearing a hijab

October 14, 2016

Last December, Larycia Hawkins, the first black woman to be given tenure at Wheaton College, an evangelical school in Illinois, captured national headlines when she wore a hijab in a show of solidarity with Muslims. The sartorial gesture was accompanied by an 11-paragraph post on Facebook explaining, in philosophical terms, why she was making the gesture during Advent, one of the holiest times in Christianity. Soon, a national controversy erupted. Times were tense. There had just been a deadly terror attack carried out in San Bernardino, California, by an American Muslim husband and wife. Donald Trump, running in front during the Republican presidential primary process, had called for a ban on foreign Muslims entering the U.S. By February, Hawkins agreed to resign from her teaching position. Months later, Ruth Graham, a former Wheaton student writing for The New York Times magazine, has followed up with Hawkins, profiling what happened between mid-December and February behind the scenes at Wheaton, and what the fallout has been.

“I feel very strongly that my first allegiance is to a different kingdom than an earthly kingdom,” Hawkins told the Times. “It’s to a heavenly kingdom, and it’s to the principles of that kingdom.” Those words served as an undercurrent to everything that happened at Wheaton after Hawkins wore the hijab, and cut to the heart of the conflict that upset some on campus and led to her undoing there.

Larycia Hawkins wearing a hijab last December (Facebook).
Larycia Hawkins wearing a hijab last December (Facebook).

In the days and weeks following the post and Hawkins donning the hijab on campus, she had several meetings with school administrators, and then submitted a theological statement in which she reaffirmed her faith and grappled with the philosophical question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Hawkins’ supporters called attention to the fact that in 2007, the school’s provost, Stanton Jones, and previous president had signed an interfaith statement agreeing that Muslims and Christians do worship the same God. But both of the men removed their signatures from the document apparently amid the furor over Hawkins.

By Christmas break, an unnamed source told the Times, Hawkins had been informally recommended for firing. Hawkins had another off-campus meeting with Jones during Christmas break and Jones reportedly told her that a teaching future at the school would be “very, very difficult.”  As a result, Hawkins declined to further defend her position. A few days after the New Year had begun, Hawkins was formally recommended for firing due to her “failure to accept and model the Statement of Faith of the College and/or the Community Covenant.” As the new semester began, the campus had become divided over whether Hawkins should be reinstated or let go. By early February, despite some flip-flopping by Jones, Hawkins’ fate was sealed as the school sent out a press release announcing her departure, saying, the two sides had “found a mutual place of resolution and reconciliation.” Three days later the school held what was described as a private service of reconciliation that was attended by students and Hawkins’ colleagues. At one point, Hawkins had a chance to address the crowd and she did so by delivering a very intriguing speech.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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