Islam and us: What we could have learned

This column originally appeared in The Wheaton Record’s print edition, Issue 2. 

Last winter wasn’t fun for anyone, but we sure did learn a lot. One of the biggest takeaways from the episode surrounding associate professor of political science Larycia Hawkins: We’re all more like each other than many of us thought. It was a gigantic equalizer for Wheaton.

We students learned that we’re not so different from the faculty: They’ve got doctorates and years of experience, but job security is just as crucial for them as it is for those of us who are holding down jobs or entering the job market.

When they spoke their minds, defending Hawkins or the administration, it looked an awful lot like friends defending friends, which gave us a whole new way of looking at the hierarchical network made up of those we know as “doctor” and “professor.”

We learned that people with decades of administrative experience can mess up just as badly as we can. Provost Stanton Jones, who put Hawkins on paid administrative leave, became human to those of us who only knew him as “The Provost.” And he set an example as a brother in Christ when he apologized for some of his actions.

For all that we learned, though, there’s just as much that we didn’t.

No one was happy about the Feb. 6 parting of ways that tore up our social media feeds and leaves sore reminders to this day. One of the most difficult things that we’re forced to remember is that Wheaton College, the bastion of intellectual evangelicalism, was faced with a test no college would want and failed to answer the central question.

It was a perfect question for Wheaton, one of the leading institutions of theological instruction for millennials on the cusp of entering a job market where they will invariably grapple with it: Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? And perhaps more importantly, if the answer is “no” then how do we relate to proponents of the fastest-growing faith in the world?

We collectively botched it. Ask a Wheaton student, and I think they’d be hard-pressed to say that they received an adequate answer to either question or viewed themselves equipped to answer it.

There was an enormous teaching opportunity for the taking, but the only real chances for enlightenment were relegated to more-or-less underground sessions facilitated by professors willing to field questions from concerned students. Q&A assemblies revealed little about Wheaton’s theological commitments, though they revealed plenty about the breadth of topics that the administration was unable to comment on. The conversation too quickly devolved into examinations of administrative prudence, which was an important topic, while certain cultural and racial overtones — also important! — turned the conversation to a place that didn’t answer the important theological question at the heart of the problem.

We have some of the world’s most brilliant theologians on campus, but the most I learned about Christianity’s relationship with Islam last winter came from external media and “I feel like…” answers from peers.

I understand that many professors feel the risk of throwing their hats in the ring after seeing what happened to one of their associates who provided her personal answer to the question. It makes sense. Professors need to feel like they have the academic freedom to pose questions vital to young, developing Christians.

If Wheaton isn’t preparing its students’ minds to deal with the extraordinarily relevant questions of Christianity’s relationship to other faiths in the real world, especially when those questions have some very real implications on the campus, it isn’t doing its job.

Wheaton needs to recreate an atmosphere that encourages academic freedom and theological exploration, the very same things that many professors come here for. I know that there’s a Statement of Faith. I personally don’t think that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, but I’m still at a loss for how we’re supposed to relate to our Muslim brothers and sisters, made in God’s image. That enormous question mark was thrust into the spotlight last winter, and, after an unsatisfying denouement, it’s taken shape as the elephant in the room this semester.

It still needs an answer.

Last winter, Jones said that the College has no explicit position on whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God. That should be an encouraging foundation for a stimulating theological conversation about the Trinitarian God and an equally important discussion of how we are supposed to relate to Muslims in 2016.

Yes! Reading good!

On what may be a game-changing correlation between literacy and speaking ability

I’d say about 70 percent of my work here is reading.

It’s a total firehose-drinking experience, from the morning news intake at 5:30 a.m.-ish, to the perpetual fact-checking, to the aggregations I pile up.

I also read articles by the USAT editorial writers — who I sit exactly one file cabinet away from — first of all because it’s my job, and second of all because they’re actually such masterful writers.

The file cabinet that separates the paycheck’d from the stipend’d. Missing: Dan the writer.

But I do thank the firehose and the ed writers, and I bless the invisible god of the 24-hour news cycle, because I have been putting away more beautifully-written prose than ever before.

Still, I can do better.

At a dinner I went to last night, out of all the welcoming tables of normal people, I unwittingly chose to sit, like an idiot, at the table of some of the most well-spoken actors in the conservative journalism world. They had me looking for teleprompters.

Just so it’s clear, I have nothing against those good-talking people; it’s just that when people speak so good, I tend to not speak at all.  It’s a problem I’m working on.

One of those guys would later go up to the lectern and say that 90 percent of his workday is taken up by reading news, including RedState, WaPo, RealClearPolitics, National Review, NYT and WSJ. So, I thought, more reading means … better speaking!

My newfound mania for around-the-clock reading said, “Yes! Reading good!”

But it’s undoubtedly more feasible for an editor with the eyes trained to read what he needs to read and abundant time to do it.

And for me, it’s probably a whole slew of other factors that affect how much I speak up in conversations, including confidence, and maybe confidence.

So, I’m open to book and news site suggestions. I’m still a teething bookworm compared to these titans, but the plan right now is to keep reading as much good writing as I can. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll be up to par in the speaking field as well.

What I told next year’s co-editors of The Record

I never could have expected the twists that this year yanked me through as our school newspaper’s editor. But at the same time, as I disembark the rollercoaster, I find myself with a nugget of wisdom that I passed on to next year’s co-editors. Read what I wrote here. (The version below is edited.) 


Here’s a few of my (Kirkland An, 15-16) personal thoughts on the editor in chief position.

You have a limited amount of time each week. Think about how you can see yourself spending that time, and make sure that a chunk of it is dedicated to The Record.

If we’re being completely honest, there aren’t a lot of people who are dying to become journalists, at least not people who are attending Wheaton. It’s a liberal arts school, and journalism students are pre-professional. So that means that you are among the few. You’re also probably going to be the person at The Record who is the most passionate about journalism and The Record.

Think about that over the course of the year — and realize that however passionate you are, the rest of your staff is likely just as passionate or less. That can be good or bad. Make sure that you are conveying that journalism is something that is worth pursuing, and that journalism at Wheaton is something that needs to be protected.

Out of courtesy and well-meaning, I say that you should get a lot of sleep, but if I’m being completely honest, if you’re getting 8 hours a night, you’re probably not doing it right. If you want The Record to be as good as it can be, then you should probably be losing sleep over it.

Here’s the bottom line: Be competitive. Pursue perfection, even to the point where the other editors in the office at 3 a.m. are rolling their eyes as you go over the issue for the 15th time. Hopefully, when we have complete online capabilities, you’ll be racing other publications to break college news (because let’s face it, Wheaton College is now a phenomenon of national importance). Recognize who your competition is, and try to beat them.

Fight for journalistic freedom. Know your rights. Read SPLC’s website, which lays out a lot of really good guidelines for you to follow. When push comes to shove, you should have a good foundational knowledge of journalism so that you can push back.

Let me add in the Christianese here at the end.

If you’re fighting for truth and pursuing excellent journalism, you’ll find that you’re glorifying God. We speak truth in love. (I tried to convince some people this year that Ephesians 4:15 should be our motto, but to no avail.) When the campus is well-informed, we are doing our duty as student journalists. When we love the campus enough, we empower them to form their opinions. That’s the power of student journalism at Wheaton.

And now I leave you with some inspirational journalism quotes.

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” -Thomas Jefferson

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” — Voltaire (This quote is especially good for the opinion editors to know.)

“In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” — Eric Hoffer (This one is especially poignant as we advance The Record through tough technological shifts.)

My editorial on the Hawkins case

Dear Reader,

The following was published in The Wheaton Record. 

At The Wheaton Record, we have the privilege of periodically writing editorial comments in response to events as warranted. The recent events concerning Larycia Hawkins were more than enough reason for the editors of The Record to come together and talk, as we have for the past few days, about what we think an appropriate response to this issue would be.

The members of the Record staff — there are about 30 of us — bring many, many different perspectives to the table. That’s because this is not about being “pro-Hawkins” or “pro-administration.” That is a false dichotomy. The number of “it’s complicated” answers we have heard outnumbers anything that would seem like a hard yes or no. The campus seems divided on the issue — maybe not evenly, but divided nonetheless.

Despite our varied perspectives, we have agreed on this: The way that our campus has allowed itself to become divided on this issue has misrepresented Christ and made Christians appear less loving and more hostile. This distresses us. As we’ve become more polarized on the issue, we’ve started to look less like followers of Christ because Christ taught us to live together in peace. We can have different opinions, but we all are still followers of Christ and must stand together in love, despite our differences of opinion. As Jesus told us, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” For that reason, we should work to repair damage that has already been done and try to minimize the negative consequences that the aftermath of this situation may bring.

It is unacceptable for cyber attackers to create a fake website to mock Hawkins, deride Muslims in our town and even target Wheaton professors and their children. It is unacceptable to slam a door into a fellow student’s face for wearing the same head garb that Hawkins did. It is unacceptable to send messages motivated by hate to people who are involved — and even those not involved, such as another college in Massachusetts. As an institution of higher learning, we should encourage dialogue, not act violently or in ways that incite fear.

We think that mistakes have been made on all sides so that no group can say that they are blameless. Perhaps Hawkins should have continued the conversation with the administration after rejecting the new employment terms. Perhaps Wheaton’s administration should have let the current Islamophobic climate in America weigh more heavily into their decisions.

Whatever the case, for the sake of bringing a divided school together again, and for the sake of bringing an end to this tumultuous season, the dialogue must continue. Hawkins and the Wheaton administration are mutually responsible for the cessation of dialogue, and they need to see eye-to-eye on that issue to reopen their discussion.

The way that all sides handle this situation will set important precedents that we cannot ignore. The faculty, Hawkins and the administration need our prayers. Considering the administration’s upcoming decision, we exhort both sides to approach each other with respect, to dialogue with honesty and to work together to repair the fractures in our community.


Kirkland An is the editor of The Wheaton Record.

This article is a product of the combined efforts of the editor and an ad hoc editorial board. The editorial board includes: Giovanna Albanese, Austin Chu, Andrew Graber, Seth Humeniuk, Philip Kline, Max Planamenta, Kelsey Plankeel and Lucy Rose Till.

In response to Liberty University’s president

Dear Reader,

Let me start by saying that I wholeheartedly regret the words used during Liberty University’s president’s ending note yesterday during the school’s convocation.

“If more people had concealed carry permits,” he said, “then we could end those Muslims before they walked in.”

When I read that President Jerry Falwell Jr. said that (reported by The Washington Post), I felt fear. It was fear partially in response to the hollers of agreement, the applause from the thousands of students in the arena, and the raucous laughter when the president joked (was he joking?) about taking his gun out of his back pocket to show the student body. It was also fear in response to the words he chose.

I asked myself, “Is this really an evangelical Christian university’s convocation that I’m watching?

It was. Convocation at Liberty University is a lot like chapel at Wheaton College. It happens three times a week, according to The Post, and it’s when the entire student body meets together to touch base, worship, and pray.

Except while Wheaton’s chapel usually ends with the chaplain’s benediction, Liberty ended theirs with a charge to go out and get a gun license so that they can “teach them a lesson if they ever show up here,” supposedly referring to Muslims again.

I’m not going to share my thoughts on gun control here. Instead, let me share my main point: Regardless of what the Liberty University president thinks is the student body consensus on how to address mass shootings, and whatever his stance, the way he chose his words was wholly unloving.

I hope the words “end those Muslims” aren’t things that you hear on a regular basis, especially not from a president. Liberty’s president, in a single choice of words, made this what so many people on social media are trying to avoid — another fight between Muslims and Christians in light of immigration crises and ISIS’ increasing influence. And, it wasn’t loving. It was the opposite of loving — the exposition of a generalized hatred towards a people with diverse ideologies within itself. 

He later explained to The Washington Post that he would only clarify that he was referring to “Islamic terrorists” when he spoke. But the more than thousands of students and anyone who watched the live stream or video apart from the article didn’t get that very helpful explanation.

And in today’s media environment, with so many extreme points of view being voiced about Muslims as an entire people group, it would not be hard to imagine audience members taking this message at face-value and running with it.

It was his off-script (I really, really hope that he was going off-script) firing from the hip that gets me genuinely scared.


I feel like I’m repeating myself, but I’m scared for my future. I’m scared that people (i.e., future employers) are going to group me with a demographic of Christian that is more likely to fire off unloving quips than considering how they can best love a people group. That people will assume that I’m one of those evangelical Christians who jokes about having a gun in my back pocket and cheers when someone I should respect says that we should “end those Muslims.”

Some might quote Matthew 10:22 to me: “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” So, I shouldn’t be worried about my future and what people think because this is what Christians should stand for, some might say.

But this isn’t what I stand for. And are the Liberty University students who hollered in agreement with their president “standing firm” with Jesus? Or is it more machismo?

I know I signed up to be hated by the world for standing with Jesus. And I do hope that the main point of this post wasn’t to align myself with any political ideology concerning gun control. Honestly.

But people are going to start thinking that Christians are all gun-toting bigots who will trade death for death. That’s what I’m scared people are going to start seeing as “Christianity.” We should teach, preach, spread a gospel of self-sacrifice and self-denial with an end goal of saving lives and converting nonbelievers into believers … right?

It’s just that the words we choose, especially as presidents and people in power, mean something. They communicate a message to a degree that sometimes we don’t intend them to, which is what happened yesterday at convocation. I don’t want the president of Liberty University speaking for me, though some might think he does.

I don’t want to “end” anyone. And I think that there are more Christians who think that way too.


Looking at my future after attending a conservative, evangelical school

Dear Reader,

I’m worried, a little bit, about my career. And that’s partly because I’m going to be graduating from Wheaton College in Illinois.

I just can’t help but wonder what future employees are going to think when they realize that I am from the college that is now known for apple-throwings at LGBT activists, leaving hundreds of students hanging out to dry by dropping their student health insurance plan mere days before the new insurance cycle began to protest allegedly abortifacient drugs, and being the alma mater of now shunned former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

The bad reputation that Wheaton College gets makes me slightly nervous. Employers might think that I’m just a Bible-thumper pulled fresh from the most “churched” town in the nation.

And in a less extreme sense, the stats show that mainline Protestantism doesn’t enjoy the same popularity that it did a year ago, and it continues to fall while more and more people ascribe to an “unaffiliated” status when it comes to religion. That might also make it harder for employers to relate to me.

But some of the things I’m learning at a conservative evangelical school are valuable. Very much so. And the bad press we get wouldn’t match up to the serenity and grace that you, as a visitor, would experience here. Wheaton College is a peaceful, idyllic campus featuring students from dozens of countries and nearly every state. Professors extend undeserved grace. Students will say, “good morning” to you (usually if you initiate).

Some of the things we learn, like offering grace, being compassionate and self-controlled, are useful tools that we’ll carry with us for a lifetime. When crises (like this terrorist attack in Paris) happen, the community gathers and people pray. Our diversity, our integrity, our ambition, and our kindness — those are things that Wheaton College wants to be known for.

Hopefully, that’s something that my future employers will catch on to. And to add to that — the things that you read online and in the newspapers don’t capture what Wheaton students are like. We would like to believe that there is a relatively silent majority on campus that is not there to push any extreme agenda or attack those who don’t believe what they do.

Of course, now that I’ve said all that, I’ll show my hand: I do want to change American culture. I want to rework the complex fabric of the mainstream media by entering the workforce as a journalist. I’m not exactly the same as the secular journalist that you might hire from the University of Missouri or Northwestern. And in this case, the fact that I’m different in ideology might work for me.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk to Michael Luo, deputy managing editor of The New York Times, when he explained to me the lack of newsroom diversity at the Times, particularly in the ideological department.

One of the reasons why Wheaton College — and many religious institutions for that matter — get a bad rep is because the newsrooms that people turn to are echo chambers within themselves. These big metropolitan newsrooms have managing editors who hire people like themselves, so they start to resemble a regular metropolitan business, in terms of race and in terms of thought. This makes the newsroom vulnerable to the influence of groupthink. They don’t have the people on their editorial boards who would sympathize with an institution like Wheaton College.

A great piece of news for me is that the newsroom today realizes its deficiency and seeks people who are from different backgrounds, including ideological ones. I wonder if I would be able to fill any gaps in the mainstream American newsroom?

One more connected thought: If Wheaton College wants the media to stop maligning its name, then it should do its part. How? Well, for starters, its journalism certificate program needs to be taken care of better. How about a journalism major or minor at least?

Send well-equipped, Christian journalists out to change the mainstream media from within and the College will see the change in the media that it desires.

On being a student-editor

Dear Reader,

Being a student and an editor of a newspaper is weirdly cool.

I’m the editor of The Wheaton Record, Wheaton College’s campus newspaper, and I’m also a political science/journalism student. So why is it weird? It’s weird because you’re learning about journalism in class for a few hours, and then you go to the office and DO journalism. You learn about bureaucracy in class, and then an hour later you’re writing about the school administration.

I tell the editors on staff: It’s the closest you can get to an actual job without working part time in college. You make your own decisions, you manage your own workforce, you deal and argue with humans — and you end up with a beautiful product at the end of each week.

And, if we’re being honest, some of the editors on staff are working more than 30 hours a week. It’s basically a job.

So being a student-editor is weird, but it also gives you some real world experience that you won’t find anywhere else.

For the record

Issue 0 Features

Dear Reader,

The last month has been an absolute whirlwind, and I’m thankful for the time I have to catch my breath before I have to dive into another publication week. Being the editor of The Record has been so fulfilling. The people that I work with are brilliant. The writers I work with are so eager to report. I converse with people who love the same things that I love every single week — what more could I ask for?

Well, I could ask for an in-house photo studio, I guess.

Just to be clear, I’m not at all ungrateful for the opportunities given to The Record this year — and this specific year, I’m so excited to be able to budget The Record’s allocated money to upgrade our newsroom in ways that will make our journalism stand out among other campus publications. And yes, I’m going to be asking for an in-house photo studio.

I’ve heard comment after gushing comment about how The Record is the best it’s been for years — and it’s music to my ears. I’m so proud of the editors, photographers and writers for making my dream — to make The Record the best it’s ever been — a foreseeable reality this year!

News Cover

We led the year with this front page design. The Record’s advisor who advised The Record for many years until two years ago told our current advisor that our publication looks the best it’s been for years.

And I’m glad to hear it, because it means that we have been marching towards one of the goals I set at the beginning of the year: to have an increased focus on design and photography. The designers and photographers on staff were eager to sprint towards that goal, and sure enough, we designed an eye-catching, image-centric 12-page publication as our orientation issue, when the norm with The Record has been to publish a small 4-page orientation. I am beyond happy with my staff.

The Record is set to cover good, hard-hitting news with attention to visual presentation and flair. Take a look at our designs this year, and let me know what you think!

Issue 0 Features Issue 0 Intersection Page 8 Issue 2 News Page 1 Issue 3 Sports Page 11 Features Page 6 Intersection Page 8 News Page 1 Sports Page 11 Features Pages 6-7 Intersection Page 8 Features 5 Intersection 6 News 1 Sports 12

You can see more of my designs under the “My Designs” tab, or by clicking here.

The design editors of The Record this year are:

News: Kasia Hiltibran; Features: James Connelly; Intersection: Anabell Castañeda; Voices: Sarah Kenny; Sports: Robert Caldwell*. 

*The issues before Issue 3 were designed by Seth Humeniuk. 

Internship Update 4

Dear Reader,

The Tribune has moved me quickly from Features to the weekly suburban papers, to the business desk, front-page desk, and the nation+world desk.

I’m simultaneously on suburban, business, front-page, and nation+world now, and it’s much faster paced here. With the last three desks, there is always a deadline coming up in a few hours and the work you put out that day is printed that night.

There has been a spoken promise that I will be able to design the front page of the Chicago Tribune by the end of my internship — that, I cannot wait for. For now, though, I’m still learning about design, news judgment, and how the entire process works. There’s plenty to learn.

In other news, these past few days, I have been in conversation with the reporter, Manya Brachear, who broke the Wheaton health insurance story* on Tuesday. Of course, I would have broken it on The Wheaton Record’s website, but unfortunately, the administration told us we’re not allowed to post any stories on our website over the summer. I’m trying to communicate with the administration about lifting the ban, but they’re not very easy to get in contact with.

On the suburban desk, I’ve been put in charge of designing the news and features sections of The Doings La Grange and The Doings Western Springs, which makes up about 25 pages, each, of the 55-page suburban newspapers. It’s definitely a big responsibility, but the pace is a lot slower than the daily desks that I’m also a part of now.

I will be sure to post more of my designs in the coming days. Stay tuned!

*May need digital subscription to view — Google title to read similar story results.