KCL’s purge of dead white dudes

Published by spiked on 18/07/17


Whether it be a constant stream of hangovers, an insurmountable amount of debt or an onslaught of deadlines, university life can sometimes prove challenging. Sensitive to this, King’s College London (KCL) has decided to rid its campus of the most frightful thing a student can face: an old, bearded white man.

KCL’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience – the biggest of its kind in Europe – plans to remove all portraits and statues depicting its founders. Given that the institute was founded in the 1920s, the paintings tend to veer towards 50 shades of white. Disgruntled that this fails to comply with 21st-century standards of diversity, administrators at King’s intend to replace the portraits with those of black and minority ethnic (BME) scholars.

This is in line with a growing movement on university campuses, which seeks to impose contemporary norms on to the past. Under the banner of ‘decolonisation’, a small contingent of campus warriors hope to rejig the significance of historical figures. That King’s – as far as I’m aware – has failed to name a single BME figure who might replace the old paintings highlights the virtue-signalling nature of this decision. Removing the busts and paintings of white men, simply because they are white, is as crass as it is pointless.

Not only is this move insulting to the history of the institute — it is also deeply insulting to the BME students it claims to protect. Underscoring the proposal to remove the paintings, put forward by the institute’s dean of education, was an insistence that BME students find the status quo unbearable. In his eyes, the mere act of walking past a few statues is enough to make some students feel ‘intimidated’.

Whether it be the Rhodes Must Fall campaign at Oxford or its sister act at KCL, decolonisation campaigns are founded on the assumption that BME students are not rationally capable of coping with a few dusty busts and portraits. Instead, they must be treated as vulnerable creatures who need constant shielding from the horrors of contemporary colonialism. This is racialism at its worst.

What is perhaps most worrying is that this demand for a ‘wall of diversity’ was not spearheaded by the usual student censors, but by university staff. Censorious identity politics is no longer a game played only by students. Universities are now starting to give in to the notion that the student body has a right to feel protected. The infantilisation of university life is becoming the norm.

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