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Yale college head tries to promote diversity by removing pictures of white men, then backtracks

Yale's Pierson College attempted to promote diversity by removing the portraits of former white male administrators temporarily. (Christopher Capozziello/Getty Images)

What does diversity mean to you? For Stephen Davis, head of Yale University’s Pierson College, the first step was getting the old white guys’ pictures off the walls.

Diversity initiative

Portraits of Davis’ predecessors typically hang on the walls in the dining hall, and they were temporarily removed to make room for decorations for the annual Halloween dance.

After the dance, Davis decided to leave them down indefinitely in the spirit of diversity.

“In the context of campus-wide conversations about diversity and inclusion in public art and representation, we’ve decided to leave the walls empty for the time being, in hope that the blank walls will begin to prompt conversation on what it means to create common spaces where everyone has a sense of belonging and ownership,” Davis wrote in an email to students.

The portraits were to be moved to a lounge in the college, while students would be given the opportunity to create portraits of themselves during “study breaks” to be displayed.

“…bring your voices and artistic skills to the table as we continue our efforts to make Pierson College an ever more equitable and welcoming place,” Davis wrote in the email.

Changing course

Davis backtracked on the plan earlier this week, posting on Facebook that he never intended for his predecessors’ portraits to be permanently removed from the dining hall, saying scheduled painting in the Fellows Lounge disrupted the plans to relocate the portraits.

"In my recent conversations with students, fellows, and alums, it is clear to me that some misperceptions were generated by my email last week and by Monday’s YDN article, whose headline presented this as a decision to 'remove' the portraits. Allow me to clarify. I originally received authorization to leave the walls empty temporarily in the immediate aftermath of Inferno, in order to host the study break and prompt conversations about the value of portraiture for our community, using the walls as a site of reflection. The plan was to move the existing portraits into the Fellows Lounge for display and protection during that time, before reinstalling them in the Dining Hall. Since my email last Wednesday, this original plan has been complicated by some painting scheduled for the Fellows Lounge. So, to honor my intention to safeguard the portraits, we are making arrangements to move them back into the Dining Hall by the end of this week, now alongside the art produced by our community members."
One last thing…
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