Oxford to display more portraits of women after protests
- Oxford University said its new artwork would help ‘promote greater diversity’
- Institution will add 20 portraits of women and people from ethnic minorities
- This comes after protests say there are too many ‘dead white males’ on the walls
Eleanor Harding for the Daily Mail
20:15 EDT, 30 March 2017
20:16 EDT, 30 March 2017
Oxford University is to display 20 portraits of women and ethnic minorities in its colleges after being criticised for having too many ‘dead white males’ on its walls.
The institution said its new artwork would help ‘promote greater diversity’ and ‘send a signal’ that people of all backgrounds are welcome to study there.
Among those depicted will broadcasters Dame Esther Rantzen and Reeta Chakrabarti, as well as the novelist Jeanette Winterson, who has written on gay and lesbian issues.
Under fire: The institution said 20 new artwork would help ‘promote greater diversity’ and ‘send a signal’ that people of all backgrounds are welcome to study there after protesters said there were too many portraits of ‘dead white males’
Among the few men to be added to the collection will be left-wing film-maker Ken Loach.
The move follows criticism from student campaigners that paintings in Oxford disproportionately depicted middle aged white men.
Two years ago, they demanded Oriel College tear down a statue of the 19th Century imperialist Cecil Rhodes over claims it was offensive to ethnic minority students.
The university originally said they would begin a consultation over the issue, but after an uproar from alumni it refused to give in to the students’ demands.
Critics said the campaign was symptomatic of a generation of students who want to ‘erase the past’ because they are unable to cope with controversial issues.
Yesterday, Oxford said all of its existing portraits – which show important historical figures connected with the university – would stay in place.
But they said the 20 new portraits would be added to the collection so that more women, people from ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians and people with disabilities could be included.
The new pictures on the ancient walls will include scientist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell and the South African human rights activist Kumi Naidoo.
There will also be some new men, including director Ken Loach, whose last film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ depicted the struggles of an ill, unemployed carpenter through the welfare system.
Oxford’s head of equality Trudy Coe told the BBC: ‘We’re not taking anyone down – but the portraits have been almost exclusively men and we’re just beginning to redress the balance.
‘It 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.’
Mrs Coe said the new pictures will reflect the modern reality of university life – and the people who have been painted or photographed have been nominated by current staff and students.
Oxford University has faced questions about whether it is admitting enough poorer students and state-school pupils
The people depicted have links with the university – such as being former students or academic staff.
The criteria for selection was that they should be examples of excellence and widened the range of pictures from the ‘narrow and traditional’ and ‘challenged stereotypes’.
Among the people to be represented will be criminologist and disability rights campaigner, Marie Tidball.
She said: ‘Symbols are important. I really hope that this speaks to kids now doing their GCSEs.’
Alumna Mrs Chakrabarti added: ‘I loved my time at Oxford. There weren’t – then – many people from my background at university there. But that didn’t stop my experience from being overwhelmingly good.
‘I hope this project will show that Oxford is open to everyone, and that it wants to be more so.’
Oxford University has faced questions about whether it is admitting enough poorer students and state-school pupils.
Admissions figures published earlier this year showed that Oxford had one of the lowest proportions of state school pupils of any UK university.
This showed that universities such as Bristol, Durham and Cambridge were admitting a higher proportion of state school pupils than Oxford.
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