Private, conservative Christian evangelical Wheaton College this week suspended a tenured professor, a Christian, for wearing a hijab in solidarity with Muslims for the attacks they've been facing. Larycia Hawkins says Christians and Muslims "worship the same God," but her employer disagreed.
In this op-ed, Justin Massey, one of Professor Hawkins' former students, calls out the school, charging them with putting fear first.
"You have become a rallying cry for justice in a world that continually disenfranchises and neglects the most vulnerable."
I privately messaged these words to Dr. Larycia Hawkins, my mentor and former professor at the well-known Evangelical Wheaton College, upon hearing that my alma mater decided to put her on administrative leave.
Her story has gained traction in the mainstream media recently after she posted a photo of herself (above) wearing a Muslim hijab on Facebook along with a message of solidarity to those of the Islamic faith. In particular, she came under fire by some alumni and the Wheaton College administration for the following statement: "I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God."
Wheaton College and many who criticize Dr. Hawkins have stated their concern is not with the solidarity she is showing, but rather with her "same God" comment which they consider to be contradictory to the college's Statement of Faith, even though it is a rather non-controversial belief held by many respected Christian theologians, including Pope Francis, as Dr. Hawkins mentioned.
I, and many students and alumni with me, believe the college's decision to suspend Dr. Hawkins is about much more than simply their "theological convictions." Rather, it has everything to do with the fear mongering and tendency to act in a harsh, knee jerk manner that is far too common in conservative circles.
I say this out of more than just speculation. I say this out of experience. I graduated just six short months ago from Wheaton College with an incredible education and great friendships, but also with the lingering pain of the many times I experienced the college's fear first-hand. As one of the most vocal gay students on campus, my very presence was a source of conflict for the administration who knew my presence and that of my peers meant the reality of angry alumni and a conservative sphere of media were just waiting for them to misstep. I had my integrity, faith and dedication to the community questioned more times than I can count, simply because of the palpable fear-mongering that exist on issues of "political controversy."
I discuss my personal experience with the conservative culture of fear present within the Wheaton College community to demonstrate that the incident at hand does not exist in isolation. Such fear-based reactions are a trend that are evident both at this individual institution and in broader conservative society, and it's a tendency that hurts us all.
Dr. Hawkins' role on campus is far bigger than teaching courses in political science. She has consistently demonstrated herself to be one of the most radically supportive and loving members of the Wheaton community, breathing life and strength into disenfranchised students of all types. For many of us connected to Wheaton College, the administration's decision to suspend Dr. Hawkins is not just an attack on one member of our community, but rather an attack on all of us who have felt marginalized for intentionally or unintentionally having stepped into a topic or identity deemed "controversial."
I truly believe the idea I shared with Dr. Larycia Hawkins this morning, that she will quickly become a rallying cry against the culture of fear that stifles the justice we desperately need to see in this country. Wheaton College must act quickly to right this wrong and start to reject the fear that I've seen be so destructive to the lives of so many. I am taking a firm stand for justice along with many current students and alumni.
Join us in calling on Wheaton College to apologize and reinstate Dr. Hawkins.
Justin Massey recently graduated from Wheaton College with a B.A. in Political Science. He is a community activist and voice for justice based out of Orange County, California. You can find him on Twitter: @JustinSMassey
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