Deal between Wheaton College, professor creates scholarship in her name
Wheaton College will create an endowed scholarship for peace and conflict studies in the name of former political science professor Larycia Hawkins, school President Philip Ryken announced Wednesday during a news conference with Hawkins in Chicago.
Ryken said reconciliation is not always easy or perfect, but the college and Hawkins are "moving forward in genuine friendship, wishing each other well and wanting to bless each other in our work."
"We want to learn everything that we can from this situation," he said. "We hope to become a better, stronger community with a shared understanding of academic freedom in the context of Christian convictions."
Hawkins stirred controversy at the evangelical school and was placed on leave in December when she said Christians and Muslims worship the same God. The school was moving to fire her until it announced Saturday that the two sides "found a mutual place of resolution and reconciliation" and "reached a confidential agreement under which they will part ways."
The debate over Hawkins' comments continues to resonate throughout the Wheaton College community. Even as Ryken and Hawkins stood together in Chicago, roughly two dozen students, alumni and religious leaders were gathering outside the school's Edman Chapel to announce the launch of a nationwide fast that calls upon the Wheaton community and other evangelical Christian institutions to "confess and repent of the sins of racism, sexism and Islamophobia, and recognize that all humans have dignity and are created equal in the eyes of God."
As president, Ryken said he is committed to restoring "what is lost and repair what is broken" on campus. To do that, he has asked the college's board of trustees to review ways the college can improve how it addresses faculty and personnel issues in the future, particularly when questions arise that relate to the college's statement of faith. He added that the school stands for religious freedom and against the repression of anyone, including Muslims.
"We humbly ask for the prayers and friendship of anyone who seeks for us to grow in our spiritual and academic mission," he said.
Ryken thanked Hawkins for developing the college's new certificate in peace and conflict studies, a program that the college is committed to continuing.
"Each year we will invite a scholar from the Jewish or Muslim community for respectful dialogue about interfaith relations," he said. "And today, I announce that in the name of Dr. Hawkins we are establishing an endowed scholarship for interns to pursue a summer program or project in peace and conflict studies."
Hawkins said she has been on "a difficult journey" between Advent and Lent, when the controversy was happening, but Jesus proved to be a rock.
"When you wake up in the midst of what seems like a dark night of the soul, with a song in your heart, you have something in you, something you can scarcely believe yourself, because the world didn't give it to you and the world can't take it away," she said, her voice cracking.
Supporters said they were happy to see Hawkins' "workplace campaign" come to an end, but the day wasn't without grief.
Wheaton College theology professor George Kalantzis said Hawkins provided great spiritual and moral leadership, as well as a safe and inviting learning environment, on a campus that greatly needed it.
"It's important for us to know now what reconciliation actually involves," he said. "Forgiveness is not forgetting."
Jordan Yates, one of Hawkins' former students, expressed hope that people will resist propagation and sensationalism in the days to come and instead focus on the notion of loving their neighbor.
"Today is about the future," Yates said. "The future is a road and I am prayerful for Dr. Hawkins, as well as Wheaton College, as they continue respectively to empower, inspire and educate future generations."
Hawkins -- the college's first tenured black female professor -- stressed she will harbor only happy memories from her eight years at Wheaton, which she called "an important phase" of her spiritual journey. Moving forward, she said she hopes to see more people embracing the "oneness of humanity."
"Today is Lent, the beginning of a season of fasting, a season to reflect where we are on our spiritual journeys, who we are and what we are becoming," she said. "So, I ask you: Who are you? Do you find yourself in your neighbor? Because yes, we are all created in the image of the divine. But we find ourselves in our neighbors, we find ourselves in other people."
Hawkins thanked her supporters and shared her admiration for her students at Wheaton, saying they have demonstrated what "embodied solidarity" looks like. She also praised millennials in general "for pushing hard and fast to be better as a society."
"Just because I walk away from Wheaton College doesn't mean I walk away from them," she said, tears streaming down her face. "They are my classroom and they will continue to teach me."