Soon-to-be-former Associate Professor of Political Science Larycia Hawkins praised the spirit “embodied solidarity” among Wheaton students, faculty, and alumni in an emotional and moving press conference at Chicago Temple First United Methodist Church on Feb. 10.
Hawkins, a beloved professor during her time at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., was placed on administrative leave in December for comments made on social media about Muslims and Christians worshipping the "same god." Her statement, accompanied by photos of Hawkins in hijab, was intended as an Advent observance in solidarity with Muslims. After a weeks-long review of her future at the college, and widespread calls for the college to reinstate the professor, Wheaton announced Feb. 6 that the college and the professor were "parting ways."
At the press conference, Hawkins spent several moments praising her students in particular.
"Just because I walk away from Wheaton College does not mean I walk away from them. We will continue to grow, walk, and learn together," she said.
The conference was attended by several members of the press, including editor of the Wheaton Record Kirkland An, who live-tweeted the event and the service honoring Dr. Hawkins at Wheaton College’s Edman Chapel the night before.
The joint statement, which did not allow questions from the press, featured former student Jordan Yates and George Kalantzis, Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Wheaton College, as well as Eboo Patel, Founder and President of Interfaith Youth Core, and Ahmed Rehab, Executive Director of CAIR-Chicago. It was emceed by Rev. C.J. Hawking, Executive Director of Arise Chicago.
Provost Stanton Jones, who had initiated and then rescinded efforts to terminate Dr. Hawkins, was not present, according to Twitter reports.
Patel and Rehab, both Muslim, spoke highly of Hawkins, whom Eboo acknowledged not having previously met. Nevertheless, he praised Hawkins’ grace through the controversy.
“Diversity isn’t rocket science. It’s harder,” he said.
“Faith identity is a living breathing document. Wheaton has been in a conversation about its identity.”
And Rehab acknowledged the power of Hawkins’ statement of solidarity with Muslims.
“Hawkins imagined being me. I can imagine being her,” he said.
President Philip Ryken, with whom Hawkins reached an agreement, announced on Feb. 6 , also spoke. The terms and details of their arrangement remain unknown.
“Reconciliation doesn't mean everybody on every side is satisfied, but they move forward wishing each other well,” Ryken said. He also revealed that the college will establish an endowed scholarship in Hawkins’ name as part of the peace and conflict studies program at the college.
The college has also promised to conduct a “thorough review” of due process, a result of the highly public fallout between the Wheaton administration, Dr. Hawkins, and students, faculty, and alumni. Many have expressed concerns that the review, to be conducted by the college board of trustees, will simply amount to a “self-review.”
Many students and alumni opted today to gather outside Wheaton’s Edman Chapel for a fast and continuation of solidarity. Using the hashtag #EmbodiedSolidarity, a frequent phrase used by Hawkins, and #TrueReconciliation, the gathering will include a faith organizing training and an Ash Wednesday liturgy to “lament injustice and demand justice.”
This follows on criticism of the administration by students over last weekend’s announcement.
“Justice looks like a change in leadership,” Wyatt Harms, recent graduate and founding editor of the student online publication Wheaton Tide, wrote.
“Justice at Wheaton looks like a recognition of its discrimination and a concrete plan to address its systemic deficiencies. Justice looks like the hiring and retaining of women faculty and faculty of color. Justice looks like an independent review of this controversy free from the biased hands of the administration and the board of trustees. Justice looks like public apologies from Dr. Jones and Dr. Ryken, in which they admit their prejudices. Justice looks like this situation never happening again.”
And of casting the agreement as a reconciliation, "many of us student leaders just don't believe this is reconciliation," said Maryam Bigash, a current student at Wheaton.
"It's masking the deeper issue.”
At the press conference, Hawkins spoke kindly of all, but emphasized once more the necessity of reaching out to others and working through conflict.
“Theoretical solidarity is no solidarity at all,” she said.
“Who are we? Who are you? We find ourselves in other people. May we as people stand with all our neighbors.”