Conservative women’s group on removing photos of male scholars: ‘We don’t have to erase men’ for female success
- Many of America’s most elite medical universities showcase walls of portraits of notable alumni who made important strides in their fields of research.
- These “dude walls” are now being criticized for being too “white” and “male.”
- But Karin Lips, president of Network of Enlightened Women, told Campus Reform that “we don’t have to erase men” to let women succeed.
Elite universities across the country are dismantling walls made up of portraits of doctors, scientists, and other notable alumni. The reason? Too many of them are white males.
Motivated by feelings of diversity and “exclusion,” many of America’s top universities are struggling to decide what to do with their own “dude walls” honoring university community members for their outstanding achievements, according to NPR.
Rockefeller University in New York is the oldest biomedical research university in the U.S., with an impressive list of alumni who have been awarded either the Nobel Prize or the Lasker Award. As such, the university honors these individuals by showcasing their portraits. The only catch: they are all men, and some within the community view this as a serious problem.
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow reportedly termed this wall of male photos a “dude wall” when speaking at the school in 2015.
Rockefeller University, Howard Hughes Medical Institute neurobiologist Leslie Vosshall, and others within the community have banded together to form a committee, dedicated to bringing more diversity to the wall.
It is unclear if Vosshall and her counterparts want to expand the qualifications for being placed on the wall, or if they want to ensure that more non-white and female Rockefeller students become Nobel and Lasker recipients.
"One hundred percent of them are men,” Vosshall said. “It's probably 30 headshots of 30 men. So it's imposing.”
"I think every institution needs to go out into the hallway and ask, 'what kind of message are we sending with these oil portraits and dusty old photographs?'” she added, claiming that the wall “sends the message, every day when you walk by it, that science consists of old white men.”
But the “dude wall” controversy isn’t unique to Rockefeller. Yale’s School of Medicine is home to a gallery of similar portraits, with all except three being of white men.
"I don't necessarily always have a reaction,” Yale medical student Max Jordan Nguemeni Tiako told NPR. “But then there are times when you're having a really bad day — someone says something racist to you, or you're struggling with feeling like you belong in the space — and then you see all those photos and it kind of reinforces whatever you might have been feeling at the time.”
Other Yale medical students were so impacted by the wall that they joined forces with a professor to conduct a study about the wall, whose co-author said the portraits rile up feelings of “exclusion” in students.
"Students felt like these portraits were not just ancient, historic things that had nothing to do with their contemporary experience," study co-author and medical student Nientara Anderson said. "They actually felt that the portraits reinforced contemporary issues of exclusion, of racial discrimination — of othering."
In addition to commissioning additional portraits of female and racial minority community individuals, the Yale community is reportedly discussing how to address the existing portraits believed to be what Anderson calls “othering.”
University of Michigan’s Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology had a similar challenge. Its solution? Just move the paintings from their position in the department's seminar room and tuck them away in the department chair’s office.
The university is in the process of replacing the relocated honorary portraits with a smattering of artwork of important discoveries made by students, faculty, and trainees.
Similarly, Harvard university disseminated 31 portraits of white male figures found on a “dude wall” at one of its teaching hospitals, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, to different spaces within the hospital.
But Network of Enlightened Women President Karin Lips told Campus Reform that the success of young women is not dependent upon the presence or absence of portraits of men.
“In fostering an environment where everyone has equal opportunity to achieve their dreams, we should be careful not to erase history,” Lips said. “For women to succeed, we don't have to erase men or their past achievements.”
George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley also weighed in on the issue in a column for The Hill, writing, "for most of us, the obvious message is that these individuals achieved the highest honors in their fields, and the significance is neither their race nor their gender but their intellect...All those portraits represent the greatest among us as intellectuals. To see only their race and gender is not just backlash against intellectual achievement but can be itself a form of racial and gender bias."
Campus Reform reached out to Harvard and UMich for additional comment but received none in time for publication.
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