By Jerry Alatalo
r. Larycia Hawkins is a political science professor at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago. Her decision to wear the hijab as an expression of solidarity with Muslim women facing discrimination, in particular the lecturer’s statement that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God”, led Wheaton College officials to start legal actions and move toward Dr. Hawkins’ termination.
Professor Hawkins shares with many others a sense of bewilderment and dismay on Wheaton College administrators’ severe over-reaction to a simple act of benevolent compassion for women facing the fruits of a growing hysteria of Islamophobia in America. When a college professor faces termination for stating Christians and Muslims worship the same God, people will understand such an extreme development in the world of academia as symptomatic of a deadly disease affecting societies: often intentionally created high levels of division, distrust and misunderstanding between groups of people.
On the positive side of this situation, it’s fortunate that the participants are educators engaged in a war of ideas, and not real war which includes physical violence. One could view Wheaton College administrators’ harsh judgment of Dr. Hawkins’ benevolent act as a form of academic terrorism reminiscent of McCarthyism during the 1950’s, only different in that “godless” communism is replaced with interrogation of personal perceptions about the nature of God, Allah, Creator, etc. itself.
One gets the feeling that Wheaton College officials have already recognized their disciplinary actions toward Professor Hawkins were a profound mistake, will reverse course and stop, and then issue a public apology to her. At the same time, continuance of an irrational, misguided legal effort to persecute Ms. Hawkins provides an opportunity for exposing the true roots of Islamophobia as directly related to historic and current ongoing tragic events in the Middle East.
Dr. Larycia Hawkins never thought her simple action would result in her unwanted push into the media spotlight and a legal battle to determine her professional academic future – stating in her press conference that she was just as surprised as everyone else at what eventually transpired.
Most likely Wheaton College will drop any actions against Dr. Hawkins, and, if she chooses to remain with the school, she will return to her teaching position and routine. While her experience has been unfortunate and the result of very poor judgment on the part of Wheaton College officials, the situation has raised the issue of Islamophobia to a much-needed higher level of honest, serious debate and analysis, so from that perspective what has occurred has been beneficial.
Whatever eventually develops in the days ahead for Professor Hawkins and her relationship with Wheaton College, her principled moral stand is remarkable, inspiring and worthy of appreciation and respect. Perhaps without intention, she has provided a profound spiritual lesson of unity between all people to her students, academic colleagues and – in a most timely, relevant way considering the violent state of Middle East affairs – the world.
(Thank you to The Video Catalyst Project at YouTube)