From the beginning of the #ReinstateDocHawk protests against the unjust treatment of Dr. Hawkins, students were clear that Dr. Hawkins was an absolutely essential part to the Wheaton community. We argued in meetings with the administration, on social media, and through the press that we could not afford to lose Dr. Hawkins because of what she represents as the first black female with tenure at Wheaton, and because of who she is as a member of our community. Dr. Hawkins is not just a token symbol of diversity. Through the talks she gave, panels she sat on, and classes she taught at Wheaton, both students and the administration were confronted with their privilege and began to address the systemic flaws of racism and prejudice that still plague our community. However, due to the witch-hunt perpetuated by Dr. Ryken and Dr. Jones, we have lost this prophetic voice and, in the process, have irreparably damaged Wheaton’s public witness.
And so I ask: who will hold the adminstration accountable?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question will inevitably be themselves. We’ve already seen it begin to play out. In the public forum, Dr. Ryken falsely stated to the student body “I haven’t made any decision or prejudgment about this matter at all.” We know this is not true because Dr. Jones and Dr. Ryken were in close conversation throughout the whole controversy. In addition, are we expected to believe that all this could have happened without Dr. Ryken’s approval? The reason he lied was so that he could set himself up as the “unbiased” adjudicator in this matter. Which is why it is no surprise that when Dr. Jones revoked his recommendation to fire Dr. Hawkins he “turned resolution of the administrative leave over to President Ryken.” It is also why Dr. Ryken said in the press release announcing that the institution and Dr. Hawkins are parting ways, “Wheaton College sincerely appreciates Dr. Hawkins’ contributions to this institution over the last nine years. We are grateful for her passionate teaching, scholarship, community service and mentorship of our students.” This feel-good quote goes to add credibility to Dr. Ryken’s ability to fairly deal with the consequences from this controversy.
Dr. Ryken will not hold himself or his administration accountable.
He has already shown he has no interest in dealing with the systemic issues that this controversy brought up— namely the rampant racism, sexism, and general fear of other that pollutes our institutional actions and caused this controversy to begin with. After the Faculty Diversity Committee sent a memo identifying that these actions were indeed sexist and racist, Dr. Ryken and his administration did not apologize, but released a press release stating that the document should not have been made public. This response is indicative of how Dr. Ryken’s administration chooses to deal with serious issues of discrimination. He would rather sweep prejudice under the rug because, in the end, that makes his job easier and makes Wheaton, an institution in which the administration is white and male-dominated, feel better about itself. This type of action disqualifies anyone within the current administration from being able to properly recognize and rectify the fact that we have lost Dr. Hawkins, a vital member of our Wheaton community because of deeply held prejudices from our leaders.
Due to this our leadership needs fundamental change. Dr. Jones is retiring after this year and to replace him with another white reformed male would be a mistake. This controversy proves that despite intentions our leadership is only comfortable with ideas that sound like theirs and people who look like them. Our problem of being too white and too male is not just relegated to the administrative leadership, but also our board of trustees, the president’s advisors, and a host of councils and committees that are instrumental in the operations of Wheaton. This is not just a call for diversity so that we can meet a quota, but because it will fundamentally change how our college is run in a way that looks more like the diverse Kingdom of God.
Greater action must be taken.
To the students, alumni and faculty who are unnerved by this institutional overreach and its blasé response to discrimination, I encourage you to not stop protesting until justice is done. Dr. Hawkins being forced to leave, even if she feels like she has to, does not equal justice.
Justice at Wheaton looks like a recognition of its discrimination and a concrete plan to address its systemic deficiencies. Justice looks like the hiring and retaining of women faculty and faculty of color. Justice looks like an independent review of this controversy free from the biased hands of the administration and the board of trustees. Justice looks like public apologies from Dr. Jones and Dr. Ryken, in which they admit their prejudices. Justice looks like this situation never happening again.
Justice looks like a change in leadership.