Injustice in the name of inclusion

Last semester Erika López Prater, an adjunct professor of art history at Hamline University, was teaching a class in global art history. The syllabus included some works of Islamic religious art, including the painting above which depicts the angel Gabriel dictating the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad.

Professor Prater knew that some Muslims consider it forbidden to view depictions of Muhammad, so she was careful in how she approached the material. First, she noted in the syllabus that images of religious figures including Muhammad, Jesus and the Buddha would be shown, and she invited students to contact her with any concerns. No one did. Second, she gave advance warning to students when she was about to display the image of Muhammad, offering them plenty of time to leave if they preferred not to see it. No one left, and the professor displayed the image.

Following the class, a Muslim student complained to the school administration about Professor Prater’s actions, claiming that they were Islamophobic. The administration agreed and fired Professor Prater (or “declined to renew her contract”, which amounts to the same thing).

I find this outrageous and deeply disturbing.

The school’s “vice president for inclusive excellence”, David Everett, sent an email to all university employees saying that the professor’s actions were “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.” University president Fayneese Miller co-signed an email saying that ”respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.”  It’s the two of them who should be fired, not Professor Prater.

Nothing the professor said or did evinces the slightest degree of Islamophobia. Indeed, she went above and beyond in showing respect and consideration for the Muslim students in her class. The student who complained, Aram Wedatalla, hasn’t disputed that the class was given advance warning and the opportunity to leave when the images were about to be shown. Her complaint isn’t about being forced to view the images, or having them sprung on her by surprise. Her complaint is that the professor dared show them at all.

Wedatalla is demanding, in effect, that one of her own religious rules be forced on the professor and the rest of the class. It’s a ridiculous demand, and completely antithetical to academic freedom.

21 thoughts on “Injustice in the name of inclusion

  1. The response from the Islamic community has been mixed. The director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Minnesota chapter, said this:

    CAIR-MN executive director Jaylani Hussein said most Muslims around the world oppose the public display of images of the Prophet Muhammad. To show the image of the Prophet, said Hussein, is deeply offensive. And he called that violation of the prohibition an act of Islamophobia. And he said it doesn’t matter that the instructor warned students before she showed the image. “In reality a trigger warning is an indication that you are going to do harm,” he said.

    On the other hand, here is a statement from the Muslim Public Affairs Council:

    Statement of Support for Art Professor Fired from Hamline University

  2. Hussein said:

    In reality a trigger warning is an indication that you are going to do harm.

    The professor’s “trigger warning” was an attempt to avoid doing harm, and each student had the option of protecting themselves by leaving before the image was shown.

    Hussein, like the student, is insisting that the professor abide by a prohibition (and not even a universal one) imposed by a religion she does not practice. Anything less is “Islamophobia”.

    These people are ridiculous.

  3. Wokeness officers (in this case the “vice president for inclusive excellence”) have often been found to be out of their depth while having too much power. Any such arbitrarial office with the power to fire people needs complete procedures – as a minimum, consider the evidence from both sides, not just the complaint in front of you – and supervision of the office.

    Either establish the complete administrative framework for the office or do not have the office at all. In this case the office exists a half-hearted attempt just for the sake of virtue signalling as usual.

    Or go deeper and dig a bit in the fundamentals of wokeness to figure out if it can have any wider social merit at all. I happen to be a leftie who thinks that wokeness is a gift to the extreme right.

  4. I have seen “harm” seriously defined as any disagreement with the opinion of the relevant authorities.

  5. After I mentioned the Hamline kerfuffle to him, a friend of mine told me about this. It’s from a memo to the staff of the USC Dworak-Peck School of Social Work:

    “As we enter 2023, we would like to share a change we are making at the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work to ensure our use of inclusive language and practice. Specifically, we have decided to remove the term “field” from our curriculum and practice and replace it with “practicum.” This change supports anti-racist social work practice by replacing language that could be considered anti-Black or anti-immigrant in favor of inclusive language. Language can be powerful, and phrases such as “going into the field” or “field work” may have connotations for descendants of slavery and immigrant workers that are not benign.

    This change aligns with the Council on Social Work Education Advancing Antiracism in Social Work Education through Educational Accreditation Policies and Standards, the 2021 National Association of Social Work’s commitment to undoing racism through social work, and the Eliminate Racism Grand Challenge for Social Work.

    In solidarity with universities across the nation, our goal is not just to change language but to honor and acknowledge inclusion and reject white supremacy, anti-immigrant and anti-blackness ideologies. Words are powerful, but even more so is action. We are committing to further align our actions, behaviors, and practices with anti-racism and anti-oppression, which requires taking a close and critical look at our profession our history, our biases, and our complicity in past and current injustices. It also means continuing to work together to train social work students today who understand and embody social and racial justice This is the bedrock of our values and principles and we all need to hold each other accountable to do better in this regard.

    We know that changing terminology can be challenging, and a complete transition will take some time, but we thank you in advance for joining us in this effort and for your patience as we transition.”

  6. keiths: “As we enter 2023, we would like to share a change we are making at the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work to ensure our use of inclusive language and practice. Specifically, we have decided to remove the term “field” from our curriculum and practice and replace it with “practicum.”

    Hmm. Field theory in mathematics; gravitational field, electromagnetic field; a farmer plowing a field.

    The world is going mad. There’s no way that this can work.

  7. Earlier I quoted the director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who came out in support of the student and affirmed that this was an instance of Islamophobia on the part of the professor.

    Wiser heads prevailed at CAIR national headquarters, which slapped down the local guy by issuing a statement in support of the professor that read in part:

    Based on what we know up to this point, we see no evidence that former Hamline University Adjunct Professor Erika López Prater acted with Islamophobic intent or engaged in conduct that meets our definition of Islamophobia.

  8. Indeed freedom to teach something was denied. this is illegal and immoral by our English speaking nations heritage. . If sucjh things were illegal by the schools rules it should of been more then clear. It seems not. They don’t want the stigma opf being censorship proponents but want to censor. If it had been pornography etc etc. it would be acceptable and a moral and legal right and duty to ignore complaints.
    TSZ has practiced censorship that is illegal and immoral but generally is liberal. however liberal is still about a master of thought and word. once again the monster the left wing created is biting itself. A s predicted. there will be more. of a thing about women had been complained about the feminisys would of fired any such man. So this woman , most likely a feminist, reaps what she has sown. She should not be fired. if the bad people at the school insist she did wrong they should warn her. let her repent. its not important enough to fire and humilitate her. these kids surely are foreign immogrants or from immigrants and should be taught to liberities and laws of our nations and obey or they should or must go back.
    its all simply again about the liberties and rights of free men and contracts based on them. Take this school to court and the court of public opinion. if I may say so.

  9. More absurd language policing. I learned about this at Jerry Coyne’s blog:

    Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative

    A sample: They suggest substituting ‘masked study’ for ‘blind study’ because the latter

    Unintentionally perpetuates that disability is somehow abnormal or negative, furthering an ableist culture.

    Christ on a pogo stick.

    Oops — I may have offended Christians and pogo stick users by implying that the image of Jesus using that particular form of recreational equipment is somehow ridiculous. I’ll try again:

    Unspecified divine entity performing an action of some kind.

  10. Haha. They suggest replacing ‘freshman’ with ‘frosh’ or ‘first-year student’ because ‘freshman’

    Lumps a group of students using masculine language and/or into gender binary groups that don’t include everyone.

    Fortunately, Stanford’s president has disavowed the nonsense.

  11. I remember a few years back when they were changing chairman to chairperson, congressman to congressperson, etc. But after some deliberation, they decided that a manhole could remain a manhole, rather than a personhole.

  12. I’m remembering back to when someone seriously objected to the use of “statesman” in a political science class. I (jokingly) suggested that they should merge the Dept of Anthropology with the Dept of Gynecology.

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