Supporters rally behind suspended Wheaton College teacher
Supporters rallied Wednesday for Wheaton College political science teacher Dr. Larycia Hawkins, a day after she was put on administrative leave by the evangelical Christian school for saying on Facebook that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
Hawkins, who is Christian, said this to explain why she chose to wear a hijab, a Muslim head scarf, during Advent. She said it was to show solidarity for Muslim women facing discrimination.
College President Philip Ryken said in a statement that the issue wasn't Hawkins wearing a hijab, but the "theological implications" of what she said, which may not have "faithfully represented" the college's Statement of Faith. She is suspended through the spring semester.
On Wednesday, as the story made national news headlines, close to 100 Wheaton students and alumni rallied outside the college's Blanchard Hall holding signs and chanting "Reinstate Doc Hawk!" and "We love Wheaton College. Jesus is love." A few people in the crowd came out in support of Ryken's decision.
The peaceful protesters held a "sit-in" in Ryken's office, delivering a letter to him and Provost Stan Jones. The letter (now part of an online petition with more than 1,200 signatures) demands that Hawkins receive an apology and be immediately reinstated. It also praised Hawkins as a person and a professor, calling her "an example of Christian leadership to us all."
"We believe there is nothing in Dr. Hawkins' public statements that goes against the belief in the power and nature of God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit that the Statement of Faith deems as a necessary requirement for affiliation with Wheaton College," the letter read.
But some students told ABC 7 Hawkins was in the wrong.
"To say we worship the same God is completely not true and it misrepresents the student body, it misrepresents the institution itself," said Nathan Simon, a Wheaton College student.
During a news conference Wednesday in Chicago, Hawkins, surrounded by Christian ministers, said she stands by her online comments and does not believe she violated the school's Statement of Faith.
"This Advent I'm standing with my Muslim neighbors out of my love for Jesus and the love I believe he has for all of the world," according to a report on abc7chicago.com.
Wheaton College alumna Kelsie Wendelberger, 23, said many alumni were upset over the way the college reacted to the situation and she feels Hawkins has been treated unfairly.
Alumna Clara Kent, 24, of Chicago, who was at Wednesday's rally, agrees.
"(Hawkins') beliefs about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are entirely in line with the college's," she said.
But student David Burnham told ABC 7, "She signed a statement of faith and she must hold herself accountable to that statement of faith."
The college did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. The decision to place Hawkins on administrative leave will be subject to a full review, which is standard procedure with tenured faculty.