Oxford University puts up more portraits of women

By Sean Coughlan
Education correspondent

  • Published
Marie Tidball and Professor Patricia DaleyImage source, Clementine Webster/ Binny Mathews
Image caption,
Disability campaigner Marie Tidball and Professor Patricia Daley are among the new portraits

Oxford University is revealing the identities of more than 20 people whose portraits will be put on display to try to "promote greater diversity".

It wants to redress the balance from the university's walls being lined with pictures of "dead white males" by adding more women and ethnic minorities.

The portraits include broadcasters Dame Esther Rantzen and Reeta Chakrabarti.

Oxford's head of equality Trudy Coe said it was "sending a signal".

This commissioning of portraits is one of the biggest projects by the university to create a more diverse range of people portrayed in its public places - including more women, people from ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians and people with disabilities.

The university faced a high-profile controversy last year over whether a statue of Cecil Rhodes should be removed - after claims that the Victorian colonialist's attitudes on race made him an unsuitable figure to be commemorated.

Image source, Oxford University
Image caption,
Dame Esther Rantzen and Professor Kathy Sylva will be appearing on Oxford walls

The new pictures on the ancient walls will include scientist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell and author Jeanette Winterson. There will also be some men, including film maker Ken Loach.

"We're not taking anyone down - but the portraits have been almost exclusively men and we're just beginning to redress the balance," says Ms Coe, head of the university's equality and diversity unit.

"It will allow students to look up and see people who look like them. It's sending a signal to a wider range of students that they belong here," she says.

Ms Coe says the new pictures will reflect the modern reality of university life - and the people who have been painted or photographed have been nominated by current staff and students.

The people depicted have links with the university - such as being former students or academic staff - with the criteria that they were examples of excellence and widened the range of pictures from the "narrow and traditional" and "challenged stereotypes".

Image caption,
Reeta Chakrabarti says the portraits will reflect the reality of modern Britain

Among the people to be represented will be criminologist and disability rights campaigner, Marie Tidball.

"Symbols are important," she said.

There are millions of people with a disability in the UK, Ms Tidball said, but they have a "lack of visibility in public spaces".

The commissioning of a picture of an academic with a disability was a "very significant" step towards making sure that all kinds of students could feel at home at the university, she said.

"I really hope that this speaks to kids now doing their GCSEs," said Ms Tidball.

And she rejected suggestions of an excess of political correctness as "absolute nonsense".

BBC journalist Reeta Chakrabarti said it was a project which reflected the university's current staff and living alumni.

These are people who are "alive and kicking, a representation of modern day Britain," she said.

"You could just continue to portray the same people, but it wouldn't be a reflection of how the university and society have changed," she said.

"Different ages, different societies celebrate different values."

As a student at Oxford, she said "there weren't many people there who were like me, from my sort of background".

But she had an "overwhelmingly positive experience" and "nothing about Oxford made me feel out of place".

Oxford University has faced questions about whether it is admitting enough poorer students and state-school pupils.

Admissions figures published earlier this year showed that Oxford had one of the lowest proportions of state school pupils of any UK university.

This showed that universities such as Bristol, Durham and Cambridge were admitting a higher proportion of state school pupils than Oxford.

The new portraits:

  • Diran Adebayo (novelist)
  • Dr Norma Aubertin-Potter (librarian at All Souls College, Oxford)
  • Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell (astrophysicist)
  • Professor Dame Valerie Beral (Professor of Epidemiology at Oxford University)
  • Professor Dorothy Bishop (Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology at Oxford University)
  • Reeta Chakrabarti (BBC journalist)
  • Dr Penelope Curtis (arts administrator and former director of Tate Britain)
  • Professor Patricia Daley (Professor of the Human Geography of Africa at Oxford University)
  • Professor Trisha Greenhalgh (primary health care academic)
  • Anne-Marie Imafidon (women in science campaigner)
  • Professor Dame Carole Jordan (astrophysicist)
  • Professor Aditi Lahiri (Professor of Linguistics at Oxford University)
  • Kelsey Leonard (first Native American woman to earn a degree from Oxford University)
  • Hilary Lister (first disabled woman to sail solo around Britain)
  • Ken Loach (television and film director)
  • Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch (Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University)
  • Jan Morris (historian, author and travel writer)
  • Kumi Naidoo (South African human rights activist)
  • Dr Henry Odili Nwume (Winter Olympics British bobsledder)
  • Dame Esther Rantzen (broadcaster)
  • Professor Lyndal Roper (Regius Professor of History at Oxford University)
  • Professor Kathy Sylva (Professor of Educational Psychology at Oxford University)
  • Marie Tidball (member of Oxford University's Law Faculty and disability rights campaigner)
  • Jeanette Winterson (novelist)