Larycia Hawkins inspires discussion on campus

Maryville College had the honor of welcoming activist Dr. Larycia Hawkins to an interview that followed a screening of the documentary Same God on Sept. 17. 

The documentary was the first film of the season as part of the Clayton Center’s partnership with the Southern Circuit of Independent Filmmakers, a program funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.   

MC international student Fauzia Batool smiles with Dr. Larycia Hawkins.
Photo by Savannah Stewart

Same God recounts Hawkins’ experience after repeating Pope Francis’ words that Christians and Muslims worship “the same god.” On Dec. 10, 2015, Hawkins posted on Facebook that she would be observing the Christian holiday of Advent by wearing a hijab to exemplify her “embodied solidarity with our Muslim sisters,” after which she was unexpectedly faced with negative public outcry. 

Since the attack on the World Trade Centers on Sept. 11, 2001 by the Islamist extremist group al-Qaeda, Islamophobic attitudes have been especially present in American society. In early December of 2015, shortly before Hawkins’ statement was posted, then presidential candidate Donald Trump even suggested a shutdown of Muslim entry into the United States. 

The fact that xenophobia towards Muslims was so openly displayed at the time of the Facebook post along with deeply rooted prejudices is perhaps what ignited the complaints. 

Donors and parents of prospective students threatened to pull funding and applications to Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts college in Illinois where Hawkins was employed at the time of the post. The provost of the school even went as far as to question Hawkins’ commitment to the statement of faith, a document with affirmations of Christian beliefs that Wheaton faculty members had to sign every new school year. 

Blake Smith, general director of Clayton Center for the Arts, moderates the audience interview with Dr. Larycia Hawkins.
Photo by Savannah Stewart

Hawkins ultimately lost her job at Wheaton College because she was steadfast in defending her statement of compassion towards Muslim women, despite the fact that she was the first female African American woman to receive tenure as a professor at the school.

When Hawkins walked onto the stage in the Lambert Recital Hall, she was met with a standing ovation from the crowd of students, Maryville College faculty, and members of the local community. 

“My scholarship is the intersection of politics, religion, and race—all the things you’re not supposed to talk about at Thanksgiving,” Hawkins said charismatically. She spent over an hour receiving questions from the audience and gave thoughtful answers; this was a discussion that would be talked about for the next week in religion and politics classes, to name a few, here on the MC campus. 

Hawkins did not express bitterness towards those who attacked her well-intended statement. 

“What I lament,” she said, “is when religion is weaponized.” She hoped that Christians like herself would not perceive her support for Muslim women as a renunciation of her own personal beliefs but rather a way of putting her feet to faith, as the New Testament says, in that she was showing Christlike love to her neighbors. 

“Hearing her speak was very convicting,” said sophomore philosophy major Jason Nix. “Hawkins brought to light what Maryville College’s mission statement ‘do good on the largest possible scale’ looks like in action.”

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