Stephen Ticsay

Wheaton College students rally in support of professor on leave

The Christian college looks to terminate Larycia Hawkins after saying Christians, Muslims ‘worship the same God’

Dozens of students at Wheaton College in suburban Chicago protested on Monday against the school's move to terminate an associate professor who said Christians and Muslims worship the same God — a statement she made while wearing a hijab to show solidarity with women who face Islamophobia.

Students filled the steps of the school's Edman Memorial Chapel chanting "Reinstate Doc Hawk," a nickname for Larycia Hawkins. The Protestant evangelical college said in a Jan. 5 statement on its website that its provost had begun a process for terminating her.

Hawkins, an associate professor of political science who has called herself a devout Protestant, wrote on her Facebook page on Dec. 10 that she was donning the hijab, a headscarf traditionally worn by Muslim women, during the Christian Advent season to show solidarity with Muslim women who have experienced “unconstitutional and Islamophobic” attacks in the United States. "We worship the same God," Hawkins’ post read.

Subsequently, the school said Hawkins refused to participate in "clarifying conversations" about theological issues arising from her post. Hawkins refutes this, saying she met with administrators several times and provided statements explaining her beliefs.

Wheaton College requires all faculty and students to sign a statement of faith in line with its Protestant evangelical tenets.

Hawkins, 43, a tenured professor now on leave, has taught at the college since 2007. She has been an advisor to the student government and coordinator of the school's Peace and Conflict Studies program.

Andrew Shadid, who is a former student of Hawkins’ at the college and helped organize the protest, told Al Jazeera that students are calling for greater transparency by the administration on how Hawkins allegedly violated the statement of faith, and are asking: "Is the college treating Larycia differently than other professors?"

Shadid said others at the college who incorporated Islam in their teachings were treated more lightly, citing as an example psychology professor Michael Mangis’ plan to lead a class in Muslim prayers.

Mangis wrote in a Facebook comment to Hawkins in December, “If you get any grief at work give me a heads-up because I’ll be leading my spring psychology of religion class in Muslim prayers.”

The college's provost, Stanton Jones, contacted Mangis and suggested he clarify that he only wanted students to experiment with different postures of prayer, the Chicago Tribune reported. In contrast, Jones didn't reach out to Hawkins directly but asked another faculty member to approach her about her post, according to the Tribune.

Some students are planning further actions throughout the week, including sit-ins outside the offices of the president and provost, and some faculty plan to hold "teach-ins" about the administration's actions. 

"We as a faculty still love this place and believe this is not what Wheaton really is," Mangis said at the Edman Memorial Chapel on Monday.

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