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Dartmouth to Move Racially Insensitive Murals Off Campus

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    The Department of Political Science panel is part of Walter Beach Humphrey's "Hovey Murals," completed in the late 1930s in the faculty dining hall at Dartmouth College. ("The Hovey Murals at Dartmouth College: Culture and Contexts")

Published: 9/26/2018 6:04:40 PM
Modified: 9/26/2018 6:05:14 PM

Hanover — Dartmouth College has decided to move a set of racially insensitive murals to an off-campus storage facility after complaints from Native American students prompted the creation of a committee to study the issue.

The four painted scenes — which were inspired by a Dartmouth drinking song written by Richard Hovey in the late 1800s and depict Dartmouth founder Eleazar Wheelock bringing a cask of rum and educational books to Native Americans, including topless women, one of whom is shown trying to read an upside-down book — were painted in the late 1930s and hang in a basement room that had served as a faculty grill.

Though the room in a major dining hall now known as the Class of 1953 Commons had been closed for years, groups and classes periodically were able to view the murals.

The murals will still be available to faculty members who want to use them for their research and teaching, but Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon said on Wednesday that they should be moved to an off-campus Hood Museum art storage facility.

“The derogatory images in the Hovey murals convey disturbing messages that are incompatible with Dartmouth’s mission and values,” Hanlon said in a news release Dartmouth put on its website Tuesday. “Moving them off-campus to Hood storage is the right thing to do.”

“The murals have been viewed as part of more than 50 courses, taught by 28 faculty members, since 2011,” said interim Provost David Kotz. “As an institution of higher education, we recognize the murals’ value as a teaching tool. For that reason, faculty access to the works will not change. However, we also recognize that the murals are deeply insulting to Native Americans and to many others in the Dartmouth community.”

Hood Museum Deputy Director Juliette Bianco and Native American studies Professor Bruce Duthu , who chaired the Hovey Murals study committee, said in a joint statement that they are “pleased” with the decision.

“In addition to their disparaging treatment of Native Americans, the murals objectify women and belittle their intellectual capacity. We believe the murals should be moved, but as an artifact of Dartmouth’s history and a work of art, however contentious and disrespectful, they should be conserved,” they said in a statement.

The murals, which have been in place for some 80 years, are expected to be moved this fall, and Hood museum staff will oversee conservation work that is likely to be needed.

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