Tufts to remove mural with only white people 'to attract a diversity of people'

A Massachusetts university has decided to take down a historical mural after students complained that the paintings depicting only white people eroded the school’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Tufts University stated in a news release that the Alumnae Lounge mural, which depicts “the great names of men” who informed the school’s history, does not include “a single image of a person of color, for example, despite the fact that black students were enrolled at Tufts as early as the late nineteenth century.”

“Students have told us that they don’t want to receive awards in Alumnae Lounge because they feel excluded, and that’s important to hear,” Tufts Senior Vice President Deborah Kochevar said, according to the news release. “We want to attract a diversity of people to the university. But no less important, when they arrive, we want them to feel they belong here.”

Members of Tufts’ Jackson College for Women donated the mural, as well as the lounge,  to the school. The mural will be archived and an online database for viewing and teaching purposes will be made available.

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The murals “make alumni of color invisible, and therefore tell an incomplete story,” Tufts Africana Center Director Katina Moore said, according to the news release. “By erasing the presence of students of color...from the historical record, the murals create an unwelcoming space for current students of color.”

But not all committee and community members were on board initially. 

“I am principally opposed to erasing any form of historical record,” Tufts art and art history professor Andrew McClellan said. McClellan had chaired the committee. He later reversed his decision on removing the mural. 

“Once I learned that they could be safely removed and stored and then re-used for exhibition purposes—and comprehensively photographed and [made] available in digital form for access online at any time,”  McClellan said. “I was moved toward taking them down by our students who said they felt unwelcome in the space because they were so conspicuously excluded from the murals.”

“To not have the historical record up there to see who we were seems to me to be an act of denying history,” said former Tufts provost Sol Gittleman.

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The decoration of the Alumnae Hall will now be under the direction of an ad hoc public art committee, which will make the lounge’s adornments “fully representative of the rich diversity” of the school’s students and alumni, according to Kochevar.

Tufts’ College Republicans and Democrats chapters declined to comment on the matter.

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