December 15, 2016
William Shakespeare, Audre Lorde, and “a cool example of culture jamming” at UPenn
by Taylor Sperry
Years after the English department at the University of Pennsylvania voted to replace a portrait of William Shakespeare with something that would “represent more diversity in writing,” the Bard was still presiding over Fisher-Bennett Hall’s main staircase… until a couple weeks ago.
On December 1, after a department-wide meeting to discuss the election results, a group of students swapped the original portrait with one of the great Audre Lorde, a black female writer whose work confronts the injustices of racism, sexism, and homophobia.
Writing for The Root, Monique Judge calls the students’ actions “the blackest thing ever”; sophomore Katherine Kvellestad told The Daily Pennsylvanian’s Olivia Sylvester, “I think it’s cool that Penn students stepped up and decided to get the ball rolling.”
In an emailed statement, English Department Chair Jed Esty wrote, “Students removed the Shakespeare portrait and delivered it to my office as a way of affirming their commitment to a more inclusive mission for the English department . . . 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.”
“It’s always more symbolic with English majors,” Kvellestad said.
Taylor Sperry is an editor at Melville House.