Oxford University yesterday revealed the identities of the individuals whose portraits it’s adding to its walls in an effort to “promote gender diversity” and move away from hallways lined with pictures of dead white men.
“We’re not taking anyone down—but the portraits have been almost exclusively men and we’re just beginning to redress the balance,” Trudy Coe, Oxford’s head of equality, told the BBC.
Scientist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, author Jeanette Winterson, broadcasters Esther Rantzen and Reeta Chakrabarti, and criminologist and disability rights campaigner Marie Tidball are among those whose likenesses will be featured. Those chosen for the honor have links to the university and were nominated by current students or staff.
Oxford’s move to diversify its walls follows students’ unsuccessful effort last year to topple an on-campus statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes. They argued that the legacy of Rhodes, who founded the De Beers diamond empire and is credited with starting the policy of enforced racial segregation in South Africa, is not worth celebrating.
Coe says the new portraits “will allow students to look up and see people who look like them. It’s sending a signal to a wider range of students that they belong here.”
The effort is reminiscent of Yale’s decision in February to rename a residential college commemorating John C. Calhoun, a 19th-century white supremacist statesman, after Grace Murray Hopper, a computer science pioneer and a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy. At the time, Yale President Peter Salovey said the decision was “the right thing to do on principle,” though he admitted being concerned about “erasing history.”
It may shock Salovey to discover that history’s most influential women are still regularly scrubbed from record. Recall in July when photos of Bill Clinton and other men appeared on the front pages of newspapers heralding Hillary Clinton’s historic presidential nomination.
Our culture still allows women’s most impressive achievements to be easily forgotten—that’s why it’s so important to showcase their faces in hallowed halls and to etch their names in stone.
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