Hamlin University in Minnesota has dismissed a professor for showing a controversial image in her world art class.
Erika López Prater was an adjunct professor at the small private college Hamlin University when she put up a 14th century painting of the Prophet Muhammad in her world art class in October, in a lesson on Islam. She warned her online students in advance in the syllabus that the image would be shown, so devout Muslim students, for whom seeing the image might be a violation of their faith, could avoid it. Still, a student complained to the school.
After the complaint, Hamlin University withdrew their discussion of a new course for Prater to begin teaching, and declined to renew her contract after the fall semester.
While the student who complained has doubled down on the claim that Prater’s choice to show the image was Islamophobic, the National Council on American-Islamic Relations (the world’s largest civil rights organization for Muslims) disagrees.
“Although we strongly discourage showing visual depictions of the Prophet, we recognize that professors who analyze ancient paintings for an academic purpose are not the same as Islamophobes who show such images to cause offense,” the organization said. “Based on what we know up to this point, we see no evidence that Professor Erika López Prater acted with Islamophobic intent or engaged in conduct that meets our definition of Islamophobia.”
“It’s critically important that we acknowledge the internal diversity within Islam and that we also respect the keen, curious minds that come from that community and other groups and that we don’t only accommodate the safest options available,” said Prater in an interview after her dismissal.
Hamlin University president Fayneese Miller has defended the decision, saying that the dismissal was “prioritizing the well-being of our students,” even though no student was required to view the image if they did not wish to.