Want to promote diversity in your institution but don’t know how? Why not turn to Harvard Medical School for inspiration:
The walls were entirely bare. Thirty-one oil portraits of medical and scientific leaders that had made the room distinctive were gone. Images of Harvey Cushing, Soma Weiss, George Thorn, Eugene Braunwald — and other historic figures — had been removed.
It seems the modern way to welcome women and minorities into organisations is to wipe the achievements of white men from the institutional memory and pretend they never existed. Not that the technique is new, of course:
Back to the article:
Unlike disputed portraits and statuary related to slavery and the Civil War, these men made contributions to medicine and research that stand up well to current scrutiny.
Yes but you don’t understand: they were white and male and therefore Nazis (probably).
Removing all the historic amphitheater portraits — leaving bare walls in their place for the past year — won’t advance diversity. What might? An array of art that reflects today’s rapidly changing physician leadership, while recognizing essential but less male-dominated health-related professions, such as nursing and social work.
Let’s not pander to minorities by removing portraits of exceptional white male physicians but instead we should include art depicting run-of-the-mill social workers. Yes, we wouldn’t want to pander now, would we?
Perhaps a rotating subset of older portraits displayed alongside newly commissioned works — with the reasons for the choices conveyed in historically informed commentary.
This man was a pioneer of brain surgery. This women is…well, a woman. And she’s brown.
Gender and ethnicity must cease being barriers to positions and recognition.
Is that the case now? Is there any minority or woman who you believe ought to have their portrait displayed alongside those which were removed, but was not due to their ethnicity or gender? If there was, I rather suspect you would have named them.
As that day approaches, public portraiture should be reconfigured to promote pride in institutional history, education about the difficult path to progress, and a welcoming environment for today’s diverse communities.
In other words, public portraiture should reflect participation not excellence. This doesn’t sound very much like progress.