by Lauren Andrews | Staff Writer
Linda Midgett’s documentary “Same God” reveals to the world a moment of courage and bravery that impacted Dr. Larycia Hawkins’ life in a way she never imagined. A political science professor at the evangelical university Wheaton College, Hawkins had never doubted her faith in God or Christianity. To put it plainly, and in her own words, Hawkins had “followed Jesus’ path since before she even knew who Jesus was.” This being considered, one can only imagine the frustration and offense she felt when questioned by Wheaton’s President regarding her faith in Christianity after making a Facebook post in support and defense of Muslims. This was only one of the many reactions which Hawkins had to face after her Facebook post went viral, a post she saw absolutely no harm in making, a post she couldn’t fathom a single negative response to. After making a seemingly harmless Facebook post on December 10, 2015, her life changed forever.
After continued hatred and bigotry aimed towards Islam and Muslims, Hawkins decided to take some form of action. She decided she would act in embodied solidarity, using her body as a platform for her expression of consolation and support of Muslims in America. She shared this decision in her viral Facebook post, but she also shared her controversial belief that Muslims and Christians all believe in and worship the same god. This is the statement that caught the attention of thousands of Facebook users, people she did not know and some she never hoped to know. The result of this viral post went two different ways: encouragement and praise or hatred and disbelief.
Hawkins decided to ignore those who doubted her efforts, as they continued spewing Islam hate, and arrived sporting a hijab at work following this post. Within a matter of days following this post, Wheaton’s Provost suspended Hawkins, placing her on academic leave. Protests from students ensued, sadly continuing much longer than anticipated, over the tenured professor’s unheard of “academic leave.” Hawkins was also a tenured professor, and with this being considered, meant the college had to find a way to eliminate her tenure. For many, Hawkins’ “academic leave” may be viewed as a way to buy the college more time to find this reason.
Throughout the process of Hawkins’ leave and presumed termination at Wheaton, Hawkins repeatedly affirmed her belief in Wheaton’s Statement of Faith, a statement the professors sign annually which ensures their belief in God remains strong and confirms they are devout Christians as well as educators. Following this controversy, Hawkins was questioned about her Statement of Faith and if she was stepping out of line by making this statement, and in essence her entire faith in Christianity was questioned by her place of work due to what she saw as a simple act of solidarity for a group of innocent people being prosecuted and generalized. It’s important to mention that this was not Hawkins’s first time being questioned in this way by Wheaton, but rather her second time.
This struck a chord with Hawkins and understandably offended her. She claimed in a press meeting that “[Wheaton] did not give me Jesus, and they cannot take Jesus away from me.” This statement spoke for itself, and Hawkins ultimately decided that she would resign from Hawkins to end the controversy. Hawkins now works at the University of Virginia, continuing her support of Muslims and discussing issues such as these to continue the normalization of such topics.
When reviewing the case of Larycia Hawkins, it becomes clear that theology and religion aren’t the only issues present. Rather, sexism, race and politics are all also factors that led to the termination of Hawkins. Another white male professor at Wheaton college spoke out in a way similar to Hawkins, but he faced no true repercussions, at least not in the sense that he was subjected to the same circumstances that surrounded Hawkins. Throughout the film, it is also evident that white male professors felt more secure voicing their opinions on what happened with Hawkins, showing a sense of immunity to the type of treatment Hawkins received. The political climate at the time of this controversy was also very conservative, with Donald Trump and his Muslim Ban and anti-Muslim preaching affecting the public as well. The situation was much more complex than a simple hijab and statement, but rather a mix of many social factors contributing to her termination.
Whether the audience decides to consider the outcome of Hawkins’ controversy a “win” or a “loss” is solely their responsibility. For Hawkins, she lost a lot: a job, friends, possibly (in some cases) her reputation and maybe even respect. However, Hawkins stated in the film that some things required sacrifice, especially things that prompt change. This being considered, Hawkins most likely views her sacrifice and controversy as a win, a situation that spread an ideology that may help promote peace and understanding between Christians and Muslims, and an occurrence which helped the issue gain attention and consideration. It appears that to Hawkins, the sacrifice was worth it, and what she gained from this experience may amount to much more than the losses.