Solidarity enacted

The political science professor who started a controversy by expressing solidarity with Muslims will visit Wheaton College (Massachusetts) on Wednesday, April 13 to discuss what it means to her to embrace and support others.

Larycia Hawkins, who formerly taught political science at Wheaton College in Illinois, will deliver a public lecture titled “Embodied Solidarity and the Other Wheaton” at 7 p.m. in Cole Memorial Chapel. Following her prepared remarks, Dr. Hawkins will engage in an armchair conversation moderated by Derron Wallace ’07, a sociology professor at Brandeis University and an alumnus of Wheaton College of Massachusetts.

The lecture, which will be free and open to the public, is part of a two-day visit in which Dr. Hawkins will visit individual classes and meet with students, faculty and staff.

“Wheaton College of Massachusetts is firmly committed to promoting a diverse and inclusive community on campus and in the wider world,” said President Dennis M. Hanno. “Dr. Hawkins’ actions in expressing support for Muslims exemplifies that open spirit as well as tremendous courage. We are delighted to welcome her to campus.”

Hawkins touched off a global controversy in December 2015 when, posting a photograph of herself on Facebook wearing a hijab for Advent, she wrote that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. In her social media post, she explained her actions as an act of Christian solidarity with Muslims. It also proved to be controversial with some Christians, igniting both criticism and support for her position on social media.

The issue burst into mainstream news media when Wheaton College in Illinois—the evangelical Christian college at which Dr. Hawkins taught—placed her on paid administrative leave and began administrative proceedings to determine whether her statement violated the statement of faith to which all faculty, staff and students there are required to adhere. In February, Wheaton College in Illinois and Hawkins issued a joint statement that they had “reached a confidential agreement,” and the professor left the school. She recently accepted a position at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Virginia as the  Abd el-Kader Visiting Faculty Fellow.

The controversy touched Wheaton in Massachusetts, as a number of people confused the other institution’s actions with this campus. The two Wheaton colleges share the same name but are unrelated.

In her lecture, Dr. Hawkins will speak about how her act of solidarity with Muslims was a personal act of faith, a political response during a turbulent election year, and how it all became an unexpected social experiment for her classroom and beyond.

The mixture of religious and political issues that arose in the controversy reflect Dr. Hawkins’s scholarly interests. She co-edited the book, Religion and American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives, which was published by Pearson in 2011. Her active research agenda includes projects that explore how and whether black liberation theology frames contemporary black political rhetoric and how black liberation theology is reflected on black political agendas, like those of the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP. Prior to academia, Dr. Hawkins worked briefly in state government administering federal programs, including the Social Security Disability program and the Community Development Block Grant.


In this Washington Post op-ed, President Hanno responds to the “reckless incivility” the campus has experienced as a result of controversy at the other Wheaton College.

Which Wheaton?

The Associated Press dove into the confusion between the colleges in this story published in newspapers around the country. More >>