The University of Rhode Island is taking down murals that were painted at its student Memorial Union more than 60 years ago because they show too many white people and lack “sensitivity to today’s complex and painful problems.”
“These murals were a snapshot in time, but the images no longer represent who we are today and where we are going in the future,” university vice president for student affairs Kathy Collins said Thursday. She added that the school had received student complaints about the murals because “the persons painted and depicted on the wall are predominantly white.”
A mural painted nearly 70 years ago at the University of Rhode Island is set to be taken down after staff said students complained about a lack of diversity in the picture. https://t.co/WTE1nXmSw4
The murals were painted in 1953 by Rhode Island alumnus and World War II veteran Arthur Sherman, who went on to become a professor at the school. The murals depicted such scenes as soldiers returning after the war and a graduation ceremony. The Memorial Union was completed in 1954 and was so named because it was funded by university supporters in memory of soldiers who were killed in the war.
In an apparent attempt to deflect the notion of disrespect to WWII veterans’ memory, a representative from URI Assistant Director of Communications David Lavallee told Campus Reform that “there are only two scenes showing military personnel.”
“The murals do not have a military focus even though they were painted to convey student life as servicemen came back to URI on the GI Bill,” he argued.
The university administration said the school had fewer than 2,000 students in 1954, and most were young white men from Rhode Island. The school now has more than 17,000 students, 57 percent of whom are female and 21 percent of whom are non-white. Its study body hails from 48 different states and 76 nations.
Collins said that in light of the “tragic murders” of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the university has to look at “the systems in place across this institution that maybe are not representing who we are today and representing the true diversity of URI today.”
Sherman’s daughter, Pamela Sherman, said “it’s terribly upsetting” to see the murals go. “It’s an opportunity for the University of Rhode Island to embrace its history,” she told Providence ABC affiliate WJAR in an interview. “It’s an opportunity for it to show a timeline, a progression and a change over decades, and we never want to forget our past.”
The offending murals have already been boarded up and covered in preparation for being replaced.
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