A new series of portraits celebrating women and ethnic minorities will soon adorn the walls of Oxford University.
Over 20 new portraits — a mix of paintings and photographs — were commissioned in a bid to diversify the range of alumni and staff currently on display in public spaces around the university’s campuses.
“We’re not taking down a single portrait,” Trudy Coe, Oxford University’s Head of the Equality and Diversity Unit, told CNN. “We recognize the huge achievements previously at Oxford but want to supplement that and better reflect our current diversity — people like them who have gone on to great things.”
The mostly-female series will include people with disabilities, gays, lesbians, and ethnic minorities, as well as several prominent men.
“I think it shows that visibly the landscape (of the university) is very different,” Coe added. “One in four students is now a student of color, and while we’ve had a lot of students of color for a long time, it wouldn’t have been one in four.” There has also been a demographic shift in terms of more women and people with disabilities attending the university, Coe added.
The subjects of the new portraits were selected by a committee from over a hundred nominations. Coe said the only two criteria were that the nominee had to still be an active part of the Oxford community and that they were people “making a difference nationally or internationally.”
Coe said the new portraits are also intended to celebrate “invisible diversity” — individuals that outwardly appear no different from others, but may have experienced mental health problems, or were of a different sexual orientation in an era when it was prohibited.
And while Oxford has traditionally honored academics, the new series will celebrate a much broader range of achievements, Coe explained.
They include novelist Jeanette Winterson, human rights campaigner Kumi Naidoo, journalist Reeta Chakrabarti, activist and broadcaster Esther Rantzen and director Ken Loach.
Chakrabarti, who studied at Exeter College, Oxford, said: “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.”
Marie Tidball, a disability rights campaigner and research associate in Oxford’s Centre for Criminology, said: “Rendering diversity to be more visible in the places and spaces of Oxford reinforces the importance of its more central role in the University’s intellectual life. I was very moved indeed to have been nominated.”
In 2016, a row erupted at Oxford when a group of students demanded the removal of a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes. The students claimed that Rhodes’ legacy was tainted with racism.
The college decided to keep the statue after receiving “overwhelming” messages of support for it.
This new series of portraits — which has been in the works for the last four years — will go on display in Oxford later in the year.
Coe said: “I hope it will encourage even more students from different backgrounds to come to Oxford — they will see students like them … I hope that it will also inspire our individual colleges and departments.”
By Lauren Said-Moorhouse