Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg via Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait will no longer hang on a key collection point at Oxford University’s Magdalen College after students voted to remove the image due to concerns it symbolizes colonialism.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson sharply criticized the push, calling it “simply absurd”, saying the queen is “a symbol of what is best about Britain.”
But graduate students who voted Monday to take the portrait down from the college’s Middle Common Room – the center of social life – said that in some students’ eyes “depictions of the monarch and the British monarchy represent recent colonial history”, according to minutes from the debate reported in local media.
Magdalen College President Dinah Rose says decisions about what to show in the common room are up to students, not college. She also noted that it was the student group itself that originally purchased the photograph in 2013.
“Maybe they’re voting to put it up again, maybe not,” Rose said. “In the meantime, keep the image safe.”
The vote to remove the image came less than a week after The Guardian reported that, at least through the late 1960s, Buckingham Palace prevented “colored immigrants or foreigners” from serving as offices. The portrait in Magdalen College allegedly dates from that era.
Rose, herself a graduate of Magdalen, became the college’s president after a long career as a lawyer and worked in areas such as human rights and public law. She suggested that she does not agree with the students’ position – but she also presented a strong defense on their behalf.
“Being a student is about more than studying. It’s about exploring and discussing ideas,” Rose said.
“Sometimes it’s about provoking the older generation. It seems like it’s not that hard to do these days.”
Removal of portrait sparks criticism and debate
In fact, the decision has sparked accusations that a “waking up” group of students is effectively trying to annul the queen. British media also note that Magdalen’s central common room is currently headed by an American, Matthew Katzman.
There is stronger criticism and even threats in other ways. In response, Rose said, “So if you’re one of those people who’s currently sending obscene and threatening messages to college staff, consider taking a break and asking yourself if this really is the best way to show your respect for the queen on. “
Oxford University is made up of dozens of colleges that operate semi-autonomously. Magdalen is on the older side when it was founded in 1458.
British College’s common areas offer a range of activities, from daily facilities to formal dinners. The term “between” generally applies to graduate students. The term “middle common room” or MCR is often used interchangeably to refer to the students themselves and their meeting place.
Magdalen College’s MCR says it aims to be “a welcoming and vibrant community.”
In a recent unofficial Oxford-wide ranking of colleges’ central common spaces that govern practices based on their transparency and accountability, Magdalen’s MCR received the third largest rating.
The controversy has jumped on Magdalen’s Facebook page – an eventuality that has left some undisturbed. The college has announced the ongoing summer torpedoes – root races, where eight-oared boats try to catch rival boats and bump them.
Some critics of the portrait decision used the college’s post about the races to show their disapproval:
“I never thought I could be ashamed of a large college that has been a learning center for many years,” one man wrote, saying the tradition “has been tainted by a set of small individuals.”
But another woman commented: “This is a post about rowing – I do not want to see, because it is not something I have ever understood, and it is not something for me. However, I am not upset about this post. Wondering, if there’s something wrong with me? “