Audre Lorde’s photograph hangs over the main staircase in Fisher-Bennett Hall, home of the University of Pennsylvania’s English department.
The Daily Pennsylvanian screenshot

The blackest thing ever happened on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania: A group of students recently removed a picture of William Shakespeare and replaced it with one of Audre Lorde.

Fisher-Bennett Hall is home to Penn’s English department, and the portrait of Shakespeare has resided over the main staircase in the building for years. The English department, in an effort to represent more diversity in writing, voted a few years ago to relocate the portrait and replace it.

Despite the vote, the picture was left in the entranceway of the building. The Daily Pennsylvanian reports that on Dec. 1, after an English-department town hall meeting discussing the election, a group of students removed Shakespeare’s portrait, delivered it to the office of English professor and department Chair Jed Esty, and replaced it with a photograph of black feminist writer Audre Lorde.

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Esty, who declined to be interviewed, said in an email to the Daily Pennsylvanian, “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.”

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Esty added that the image of Lorde will remain until the department reaches a decision about what to do with the space.

Katherine Kvellestad, a sophomore English major at Penn, told the paper that she commended the actions of the students and said that replacing Shakespeare’s portrait with one of Lorde sends a positive message.

“You don’t necessarily need to have a portrait of Shakespeare up,” Kvellestad said. “He’s pretty iconic.”

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Her comments were echoed by junior English major Mike Benz, who told the newspaper that college curricula typically focus on European and Western ideals, leaving outside texts to be ignored or set aside.

“It is a cool example of culture jamming,” Benz said.

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Esty’s statement to the Daily Pennsylvanian was also emailed to English majors and minors at the university. He said that the department is dedicated to exploring a diverse range of works, both old and new.

“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,” Esty wrote.

Read more at the Daily Pennsylvanian.