Where to begin? What to say? How to deal with this kind of selective blindness? You feel dumbstruck at first, reading this. Wheaton is an excellent school. It is both stunning and discouraging that a reasonable action should be confronted this way.
Academic freedom has been deteriorating in this country for decades. Both sides of the political spectrum are guilty. There are excellent arguments for adopting and upholding standards. Similarly, there are reasons to take positions in opposition to those arguments and rights to express those stances.
Colleges and universities are meant to be and should be institutions where ideas are able to flourish, knowledge can expand, and limits may be tested. Without a challenge to boundaries, they can become nothing more than elevated primary schools and purveyors of rote learning, constricted thought, and intellectual stagnation rather than the fertile soil of critical discipline and creative ideation they are meant to be. They should not be sheltered hothouses of mind control. Limitation defeats their purpose and cheapens and cripples their product.
Dr. Hawkins is doing something that as recently as the 1960s was done by Christian women of many denominations regularly and still is done by many Orthodox Jewish women. She is covering her head. When Jackie Kennedy did that, Catholic women were required to even if, in an emergency, all the covering available was a Kleenex (perhaps secured by a bobby pin – or maybe not). We were happy to doff the hats and don the scarves she made popular.
It is not the covering that is in question. It is her purpose in doing so that grates. But don’t we all know by now that what she, a scholar of religion, is saying is true? It is the same God. Don’t we all know this by now? The God that spoke to Abraham is the same in three belief systems. I am not the religious scholar. Dr. Hawkins is.
I like her gesture, but that is just me. I think in light of current affairs she found a novel, caring, Christian, and meaningful way to celebrate Advent which is something of a marginalized season in the Christian calendar these days.
We used to sacrifice something. We used to give something up for Advent exactly the way everyone remembers to do for Lent. We don’t do that so much anymore, and unless your kid made an Advent wreath at school, you might not even remember this season much. You might be too busy shopping.
Dr. Hawkins found a new way to mark Advent, a personal one that made a statement she felt should be made. There is nothing wrong with her action. Her purpose is inarguably Christian and kind.
Wheaton, for fragile, at best, dogmatic reasons, has decided that for Advent, she should give up teaching. I feel sorry for her students. I mourn academic freedom in what should be the anticipation of the most joyous season of all.
For shame, Wheaton. We expected more Christian behavior.
And yes, it is not only fine, it is expected that women of any denomination cover their heads in certain religious contexts.
US President Barack Obama (R) and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2R) listen to an explanation by an Egyptian-American art historian (L) as they tour the Sultan Hassan Mosque in Cairo, June 4, 2009. Obama took a tour of the medieval mosque in the heart of old Cairo on a trip aimed at repairing rifts with the Muslim world.
AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
At a formal audience with the pope for example, you are expected to but not on an informal social occasion.
The academic hypothetical that arises is this: If it were Catholic nuns who were, for some reason, under scrutiny and Dr. Hawkins wore a veil in sympathy, would Wheaton be similarly opposed and suspend her from teaching?