On the campaign to remove — or make less prominent — walls of portraits of old white men from academia’s past.
“It just sends the message, every day when you walk by it, that science consists of old white men,” says [neuroscientist Leslie] Vosshall. “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?'”
While defenders of dude walls warn of erasing history, the counterpoint is powerful:
…some argue that the old portraits themselves have erased history, by glorifying white men who hold power while ignoring the contributions to science and medicine made by women and people of colour.
Celebrations of individuals in this way always make me wary. It seems to be particularly common in higher education, where awards and buildings are routinely named after white males.
But very few breakthroughs are truly the work of a single individual. The people honoured in this way are likely the people most adept at taking all the credit for other people’s work.