Uni apologises after cleaner told to remove International Women’s Day graffiti

The photo of the incident, which was tweeted by a professor, prompted an angry backlash online


Oxford has apologised after a picture of a female cleaner scrubbing out the words “Happy International Women’s Day” from the Clarendon steps went viral.

Oxford Associate Professor of Political theory, Dr Sophie Smith, tweeted the photo of an unidentified cleaner scrubbing off the chalk graffiti, prompting an angry backlash and over 3,000 retweets.

Smith claimed an onlooking group of male university security officials had made the cleaner remove the graffitti.

The image was branded “shameful” by some Twitter users, with one saying: “having a woman scrub off chalk that says Happy International Woman’s Day while some blokes stand around in the background isn’t a good look.”

Twitter user Jessie Raymond added: “A picture’s worth a thousand words.”

Others remarked on the poignancy of the image, with one tweeting: “Wow. Is this a photo or a Banksy?”

Oxford University apologised for the incident, saying it was “deeply sorry”.

In response, Smith demanded the university give the cleaner “a heartfelt apology, a warm cup of tea, the rest of the day off and, along with all our precarious staff, good enough pay to live in this city.”

The incident followed an International Women’s Day rally organised by picketing UCU trade unionists and students outside the Clarendon Building.


  1. Polite graffiti done in chalk rather than paint is so rare it should have been left for a week and then it wouldn’t have mattered who washed it off, nobody would have either lost or saved face and the authorities would have seemed altogether more tolerant and approachable…

  2. What’s the big deal? The men in the background are security guards; it’s not their job to clean things up any more than it’s the cleaner’s job to provide security services. If a male cleaner had been on shift, people probably would have kicked up a stink about a man wiping away a message about International Women’s Day.

  3. The University shouldn’t have apologised. The cleaner was doing her job, and it was good to see the University being made tidy again after a demonstration. There is nothing degrading about doing cleaning work, and people who react as if there is should be ashamed of themselves.


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