Students, staff and faculty filled the Cole Memorial Chapel on April 13 to attend a talk by Professor of Political Science, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, titled “Embodied Solidarity and the Other Wheaton.” Hawkins is from the University of Virginia and formerly of the ‘other’ Wheaton College in Illinois.
She spoke of standing with the oppressed and acting against injustice rather than simply discussing it. Derron Wallace ’07, who is Associate Professor of Education and Sociology at Brandeis, helped to facilitate student questions after the talk.
Hawkins was suspended from Wheaton College in Illinois for her posts on social media in which she stated her intent to wear a hijab. Hawkins eventually wore the hijab headscarf for over a month as an act of solidarity with Muslims and an act of Christian advent worship to stand with the oppressed.
“The [social media] post initiated a national and international conversation about the nature of God and the possibility [for] multi-faith solidarity in a time where islamophobia, xenophobia and racism are as, if not more, prolific than in any time [during] our history,” President Dennis Hanno said.
While Hawkins did not talk about her departure from Wheaton, Illinois, she explained the reasoning behind her actions. “Muslim lives matter, because Muslim bodies matter…[this is] why I wore a hijab in solidarity with my Muslim sisters, because human decency predicated on human dignity demanded it,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins began her talk by explaining that society has failed to apply human dignity to all people and has instead started dehumanizing others out of fear. “Our theo-political imaginations need to be rewired to believe that [human] bodies matter,” Hawkins said. “You think you believe human bodies matter, but you don’t; that’s why I am here.”
Much of Hawkins talks concerned moving college students’ theoretical solidarity and sympathy into real-world action. “I am convinced that we have made peace with oppression,” Hawkins said, “You, mostly college students…you read the news from various perspectives so you can be ‘educated’ about injustice, but does it appall you or is it just fodder for [intellectual] conversation?”
Hawkins said that academia tends to be viewed as being educated, but they are often being complicit. “It’s not complicated, theoretical solidarity. Sitting on my ass while other languish, is lazy…[Embodied solidarity] is moving beyond the peace we have made in our heart with oppression,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins made clear that donning a hijab was about suffering with the oppressed, and learning from others rather than teaching them. “You are privileged and you have a responsibility to place yourself among the oppressed and the suffering,” Hawkins said. “Embodied solidarity is not about ‘lowering’ yourself, it is about humbling yourself to see people in their suffering…it is about a collective human consciousness and it requires developing your vision.”
Hawkins also addressed the importance of moving out of one’s own comfort zone to seek different perspectives. She said that many millennials from ‘Generation X’ are moving to towns to live with people who think just like them, instead of having ideologies challenged or discussed. “Many of us live in pockets of conformity where we are not challenged to [have] anything more than our own views on anything from politics, to religion, to suffering. We evade and escape suffering,” Hawkins said.
Wallace moderated the discussion as students asked Hawkins questions, including ones on Pope Francis and her response to objections that what she did may have been cultural appropriation. “The difference here is cultural appropriation often borders on a kind of unthoughtful presumptiveness…as opposed to [genuinely] walking with [the oppressed],” Hawkins said.
Hawkins conceded that she was in a privileged position as a Christian women wearing the hijab and having the freedom physically take it off. “The hijab is a lifestyle; it’s a lifestyle of purity and commitment to the faith, so actually I haven’t taken off the hijab,” Hawkins said. “Wearing the hijab made me more aware of the kind of persecution Muslim women face on a daily basis.”
Hawkins encouraged students to not just be symbolically united with the oppressed but to act on it and see perspectives other than the ones written in textbooks. “Oppression is an opportunity to walk with others,” Hawkins said. “I think walking with other people in their suffering is about one of the most radical things we can do.”