IN THEORY, FACULTY with tenure have safety to pursue academic freedom, but four years ago Dr. Larycia Hawkins, then an associate professor of political science at Wheaton College, exposed the reality that for women of color tenure is vulnerable, even to online trolls. When Hawkins became the center of a national controversy over a Facebook post expressing solidarity with Muslim women during a wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric sweeping the nation, her employer did not protect her. Instead, it hung her out to dry. Now Hawkins is at the center again, this time as the subject of the documentary film Same God, directed by Wheaton alumna Linda Midgett.
Wheaton, an elite evangelical liberal arts school in the Chicago suburbs, touts a proud abolitionist past as a stop on the underground railroad and the first institution of higher education in Illinois to admit a black man. “Doc Hawk,” as Hawkins’ students lovingly call her, was celebrated as the first African American woman to receive tenure in the school’s 159-year history.
Same God begins in the aftermath of the mass shooting on Dec. 2, 2015, in San Bernardino, by a Muslim couple influenced by Islamic extremism. Barack Obama was president and Donald Trump was on the campaign trail, promising a ban on all Muslims entering the country. Two days later, Jerry Falwell Jr. escalated tensions from a stage at Liberty University. “I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed us,” he said, after cavalierly asking the cheering audience if it was illegal to pull out the weapon he hinted was in his back pocket.