A portrait of Theresa May has returned to the Geography department four months after it was initially removed, following criticism from students and academics.
The picture – part of a celebration of the department’s female alumnae – was initially taken down following backlash in May. The University claimed this was because it “was being obscured by posters bearing various messages”, and that it “will be re-displayed so it can be seen as intended.”
The portrait is now back on display after a “long process of consultation.”
In a statement, the Geography department said: “Any exhibition portraying the achievements of women has the potential to cause controversy (what is ‘achievement’? Who should be chosen to reflect ‘achievement’? How should they be portrayed? How to address intersectionality issues? Who should make those choices?).
“These issues were compounded in this case by the fact that one of the School’s female alumna (Theresa May) received many nominations to be included, but is also a controversial political figure and a current Head of State [sic]. Those responsible for the exhibition thought long and hard about whether or not to include her portrait, but ultimately decided to go ahead.”
They added: “Theresa May’s appearance in this exhibition reflects the fact that she is a woman alumna of the School in a significant leadership position. It is not a comment on her activities in that position: the School is a non-partisan body.
“We are not afraid of debate and discussion. The decision to include her in this re-curated exhibition was taken by the School Committee on a majority vote. The ‘engagement space’ provided is designed to encourage further contributions.”
However, the campaign group that spearheaded calls for the portrait’s removal, NotAllGeographers, took issue with how the consultation process took place.
A spokesperson told Cherwell: “The consultation was how to situate the portrait rather than question that it should be there in the first place. What sort of consultation already says that something is out of bounds? That’s why many didn’t engage in the first place. It was a phoney consultation set up to please donors and establish a form of credibility.”
The School of Geography also stated that they have provided a space for people to add their comments on the exhibition and the debate which surrounds it.
However, NotAllGeographers told Cherwell: “Our original campaign actually situated comments around the portrait, thereby creating space, a bordering of May (as she has done to many as Home Secretary and as PM). What the new space does is only offer a space away, hidden in the emergency refuge space, out of sight.
“That doesn’t strike us a discussion space but one to hide away and quell dissent.”
The School of Geography and Environment has been contacted for further comment.