Southampton Students' Union president resigns in WW1 mural row

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Emily DawesImage source, University of Southampton
Image caption,
Emily Dawes apologised after sending the initial tweet

A student leader who sparked outrage by saying a mural dedicated to soldiers in World War One should be painted over has resigned.

The artwork, in the University of Southampton Senate Room, shows a degree being given to an unknown soldier.

Union president Emily Dawes faced a backlash online after saying the "mural of white men" would be taken down or daubed over.

She said she "acted impulsively" and would step down with immediate effect.

Image source, University of Southampton
Image caption,
The artwork was painted in 1916 as a tribute to soldiers who could not complete their studies

On 24 October Ms Dawes tweeted: "Mark my words - we're taking down the mural of white men in the uni Senate room, even if I have to paint over it myself."

The mural, painted by Sir William Rothenstein in 1916, was completed as a tribute to students who were killed in World War One and were unable to collect their degrees.

Apology made

Ms Dawes later apologised, but a petition calling for her to resign from her post was signed more than 21,000 times.

In a statement released through the Students' Union she said she had "decided it is best" to stand down from the role.

Image source, Twitter
Image caption,
Emily Dawes' original tweet - since deleted - sparked a social media backlash

She said: "I sincerely apologise for the offence and disrespect caused by my earlier comments which were misinformed.

"I acted impulsively and as such fully accept how careless and hurtful my words were."

In a statement, the university said: "We respect Emily's decision and will continue to provide her with support."

Southampton Itchen MP Royston Smith was among those initially critical of Ms Dawes.

He said it was "in poor taste" to "disregard the heroic sacrifice of soldiers who sought to defend the very freedoms, including free speech, which [Ms Dawes] has chosen to exercise".

More than 1,000 people replied to Ms Dawes' post on Twitter, with some describing the comments as "ignorant" and showing "contempt for our brave soldiers".

The artwork was unveiled in the university's Senate Room in 2014 as part of a series of events to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War One.

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