Graduate students at the University of Oxford
removed a portrait of Queen Elizabeth from their common area due to its ties to "colonial history," prompting cries of "cancel culture
" and global headlines.
Members of the Magdalen College Middle Common Room, or MCR, decided to remove the portrait during a committee meeting on Monday, according to the BBC
, because “for some students, depictions of the monarch and the British
monarchy represent recent colonial history.”
On Tuesday, Dinah Rose, a barrister and the president
of Magdalen College at Oxford, responded to news
reports about the removal of the image on Twitter
“The Middle Common Room is a graduate student organization that does not represent the College,” she wrote. “A few years ago, around 2013, they bought a print of a photo of the Queen to decorate their common room.”
“They recently voted to remove it, and both of these decisions are theirs to make, not the College’s. Magdalen strongly supports free speech
and political debate, as well as the MCR’s right to autonomy,” Rose added.
“Perhaps they'll vote to re-post it, maybe they won't, but the photo will be safely stored in the meantime.”
Rose also pleaded with Queen Elizabeth II
supporters to remember her when harassing Oxford students.
“If you are currently sending obscene and threatening messages to College staff, you might consider pausing and asking yourself whether that is the best way to show your respect for the Queen,” she said.
“Or whether she would be more likely to support the traditions of free debate and democratic
decision-making that we are attempting to preserve at Magdalen.”
On Wednesday, Buckingham Palace
had no comment for Stardia, and Oxford University and Magdalen College did not respond to requests for comment immediately.
, predictably, called the students' decision "absurd" and evidence of "cancel culture."
The removal of the portrait, according to Education
Secretary Gavin Williamson, is "absolutely absurd."
“She is the Head of State and a symbol of what is best about the United Kingdom
,” he tweeted, adding that “during her long reign, she has worked tirelessly to promote British values of tolerance, inclusivity, and respect around the world.”
The removal of a portrait of the Queen by Oxford University students is simply absurd; she is the Head of State and a symbol of what is best about the UK, and during her long reign she has worked tirelessly to promote British values of tolerance, inclusivity, and respect around the world — Gavin Williamson (@GavinWilliamson) June 8, 2021
Other British universities have faced backlash for any apparent tributes to the monarchy, such as King's College London
, which recently apologized for sending out a photo of Prince Philip following his death
. After receiving a number of complaints from critics of the Duke of Edinburgh, associate director Joleen Clarke told students and staff that the school was "sorry to have caused this harm."
“Through feedback and subsequent conversations, we have come to realize the harm that this caused members of our community, due to his history of racist
and sexist comments,” Clarke said.
Following Prince Harry
and Meghan Markle
's March interview
with Oprah Winfrey
, the royal family
has been dealing with allegations of racism
. Meghan, who is biracial, stated that one royal family member expressed racist "concerns" about the color of their son Archie
's skin prior to his birth.
The revelations from the interview prompted Prince William
to declare that the royals
were "very much not a racist family." Buckingham Palace also issued a statement on behalf of the queen, stating that "the issues raised, particularly those of race, are concerning. While some recollections may differ, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately."
The Guardian also recently uncovered and published documentation outlining former Buckingham Palace hiring practices that barred minorities and foreigners from holding office positions but did not prevent them from working as domestic workers, a practice that lasted at least until the late 1960s, according to the outlet.
In an interview with young leaders of the Queen's Commonwealth Trust last July, Prince Harry discussed the royal family's need to confront its colonial past as well as the history of the Commonwealth, which includes former British colonies.
“We can't move forward unless we acknowledge the past,” Harry said at the time.
The British monarchy actively participated in the slave trade, as previously stated by Kehinde Andrews, professor of Black studies at Birmingham City University, to Stardia UK: "The British monarchy is a racist institution."
“Its symbolic role is whiteness. Even now, the fact that we think the Queen represents Britain just tells you everything that’s wrong with so many people in this country,” he said in March. “It is a champion of the Commonwealth, which is simply the British Empire. This is not something to celebrate.