On April 7, 2016, Dr. Larycia Hawkins spoke in the Alice Millar Chapel to a gathering of community and university members on the Northwestern campus. Dr. Hawkins was invited to speak following her December 2015 decision to don a hijab to express her personal solidarity with her Muslim sisters.
Dr. Hawkins, now a Visiting Faculty Fellow at the University of Virginia, was the first female, African-American tenured professor at Wheaton College, located in the western suburbs of Chicago, where she taught political science. After her December 2015 Facebook post, she was placed on administrative leave from this institution and in February 2016, Dr. Hawkins and Wheaton College came to a mutual resolution and parted ways. Her social media post initiated a national response and a conversation on the nature of true, embodied solidarity, which was the focus of her talk at Northwestern.
Dr. Hawkins’ address focused on the question of conscientious citizenship and what that can look like in a modern society. Entitled “Embodied Solidarity: What does it mean to love your neighbor,” she discussed this topic within and without the context of her Christian beliefs. Citing such tragedies as the refugee crisis, recent deaths at the hands of the police, and charging her audience to find the oppression around them, Dr. Hawkins powerfully commented, “We have made peace with oppression.”
She further observed modern society as having “written off entire categories of humans as zombies” and, in the process of zombifying them, have written people out of humanity altogether. Contemplating the many ways in which humans allow personal comfort to prevent them from seeing the oppressed and the vulnerable, Dr. Hawkins charged her audience to recognize oppression and to “find out what it means to be human by daring to see people in their oppression.” In this manner, people can begin to discover the reality of embodied solidarity.
In the final moments of her talk, Dr. Hawkins described embodied solidarity as the very thing which human dignity commands, and lamented that human dignity is not more privileged in American society. She remarked, “In order to see the oppressed we have to position ourselves among the vulnerable.” She ended by taking questions from students and faculty; discussing her experiences following her December post and elaborating on her perceptions of embodied solidarity.
The Dr. Hawkins event was co-sponsored by the following campus partners: Public Affairs Residential College, University Christian Ministry, the Office of the President, University Chaplains, Residential Academic Initiatives, Department of Political Science, Department of African American Studies, Program in American Studies, Northwestern Community for Human Rights, Global Politics and Religion Research Group, and Muslim Cultural Students Association.