Penn Students Remove Prominent Shakespeare Portrait, Replace With Photo of Renowned Black Female Writer

And Audre Lorde’s photo is going to stay there – for the time being, at least.

Students at the University of Pennsylvania have replaced a massive portrait of William Shakespeare with a photo of Audre Lorde, a black, lesbian, feminist writer and civil rights activist from the 20th century. 

The Daily Pennsylvanian first reported that a group of students had removed the Shakespeare portrait from Fisher-Bennett Hall and placed it in the office of Jed Esty, the chair of the English department.

Esty said in a statement that the students’ action was “a way of affirming their commitment to a more inclusive mission for the English department. That commitment is shared by the faculty.”

Penn’s English department had, for years, expressed interest in replacing the Shakespeare portrait, but students apparently took the matter into their own hands after the long delay. Esty said Shakespeare’s “place as a valued writer is under no threat here, and the widening of the mission of English departments to include not just classic but contemporary writers is, by now, old news.”

The portrait of Lorde will remain until the department makes a decision about what should occupy the wall permanently.

“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 said.

Mike Benz, a junior English major at Penn, told the DP he thought the switch was “a cool example of culture jamming.” Other reactions were mixed:

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