About-face at Harvard

Yes that stalwart PC center of the universe, Harvard, is at it yet again, which includes removing former, historical portraits of whites. Looking now to rewrite its own history. The school thinks that they have “too many white portraits” hanging on the walls.

CAMBRIDGE — The faces peer out, unsmiling, from the gilded frames lining the sea-green walls of the faculty room in Harvard’s historic University Hall. Some are mustachioed, a few bespectacled. They’re dressed in three-piece suits or cloaked in robes, sporting cravats or bow ties.

Harvard University's new portraits show diversity

Harvard University's new portraits show diversity

In this ornate meeting room adorned with crystal chandeliers, Greek columns, and Oriental carpets hang images of Harvard’s most venerable figures — row upon row of stone-faced alumni, professors, and presidents. They are mostly men; all are white.

Of the approximately 750 oil portraits that grace the libraries, dining commons, and undergraduate residences of the nation’s oldest university, roughly 690 were of white men, as of a 2002 inventory by the curator of the university’s portrait collection. Only two portraits, commissioned in the 1980s and ’90s, were of minorities. The remaining portraits were of white women — Radcliffe professors, benefactors’ family members, presidents’ wives.

The portraits, as well as another 450 marble busts, sculptures, prints, and drawings, present an incomplete picture of Harvard that the university is seeking to change.

“There’s a significance to portraiture, in demonstrating to people of all backgrounds that their presence and contribution are appreciated,’’ said Dr. S. Allen Counter, director of The Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, which for eight years has been quietly commissioning portraits of distinguished minorities and women to hang in Harvard’s hallowed halls.

“We simply wish to place portraits of persons of color and others who’ve served Harvard among the panoply of portraits that already exists,’’ Counter said. “We will not displace any portrait, just simply add to them.’’

On Friday, dozens of university officials, professors, and alumni gathered in the junior common room at Lowell House, sipping cider and nibbling on canapés, to celebrate the portrait project’s most recent success: a painting of Dr. Chester Pierce, a 1948 Harvard graduate and longtime professor of psychiatry and education. Pierce, believed to be the first African-American college student to play a football game at an all-white Southern university (Pierce was part of the 1947 Crimson team that played against the University of Virginia), is depicted wearing a red-striped varsity football tie while delivering a lecture in the Ether Dome at Harvard Medical School.

“Portraits really are the evidence of our history,’’ said Diana Eck, a religion professor who is a co-master at Lowell House. “We realize that history goes on, and it’s really important to Harvard to update our image, which has changed so much from the early days.’’

In recent years, nine other new faces — including Archie Epps III, a beloved dean of students who was African-American; Rulan Pian, a professor of music and East Asian languages and civilization who is Chinese-American and served as Harvard’s first minority house master; and Stanley Tambiah, an anthropology professor from Sri Lanka — have popped up alongside renderings of US Senator Charles Sumner and Harvard benefactors Samuel Appleton and Samuel Eliot.


I personally look forward to the NBA being similarly equalized. Think that will happen?


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