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Ivy League Students Replace Shakespeare Portrait with Black Feminist Poet

This week, students at the University of Pennsylvania removed a portrait of William Shakespeare and replaced it with a portrait of black feminist poet Audre Lorde.

Without obtaining permission, students at the University of Pennsylvania removed a painting of William Shakespeare located in Fisher-Bennett Hall and replaced it with a picture of the black feminist poet Audre Lorde.

A group of students removed the iconic portrait from the walls of Fisher- Bennett Hall and delivered it to Esty’s office after an English Department town hall meeting discussing the election, which took place on Thursday December 1. They replaced it with a photo of Audre Lorde, a black female writer.

The portrait has resided over the main staircase of Fisher-Bennett — home to Penn’s English Department — for years. The English Department voted to relocate and replace the portrait a few years ago in order to represent a more diverse range of writers, according to an emailed statement from Esty, who declined to be interviewed.

However, despite the vote, the portrait was left in the entranceway until recent events.

Although the portrait had resided in Fisher-Bennett Hall for several years, the English faculty voted several years ago to have the portrait removed so that more diverse voices could be introduced to the department. 

Despite the vote, the portrait remained the in the hallway. As a result, students decided to take the situation into their own hands and remove the portrait themselves. After placing the portrait in the office of Department Chair Jed Etsy, the students plastered a makeshift portrait of poet Audre Lord in its place.

“Students removed the Shakespeare portrait and delivered it to my office as a way of affirming their commitment to a more inclusive mission for the English department,” Esty wrote in the email. He added that the image of Lorde will remain until the department reaches a decision about what to do with the space.

Etsy also invited students to think critically about the influence of symbols such as Shakespeare: “We invite everyone to join us in the task of critical thinking about the changing nature of authorship, the history of language, and the political life of symbols,” Esty wrote.

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