A collage of 88 different writers and filmmakers replaced the poster of Audre Lorde on the wall above the main staircase of Fisher-Bennett Hall on Thursday, Jed Esty, Penn English professor and department chair wrote in an emailed statement.
The installment comes after a group of students removed a portrait of William Shakespeare from the wall on Thursday Dec. 1 and replaced it with a photograph of Lorde, a black female poet. They delivered the Shakespeare portrait to Esty's office after the English Department held a town hall meeting that day to discuss the results of the U.S. presidential election.
The students replaced the portrait to affirm "their commitment to a more inclusive mission for the English department,” Esty previously wrote in an an emailed statement.
Each portrait on the current collage represents a figure from the English Department's "50 Book List," a list of texts chosen by Ph.D. students to be tested on at the beginning of their second year. Both Shakespeare and Lorde are included on the poster.
Zachary Lesser, English professor and undergraduate chair, sent Esty's statement to the listserv for undergraduate English students.
"This display is a provisional, place-holding version of one of the ideas that have been floated for that space over the years," Esty said in the statement. He had previously stated that the English Department had voted years ago to replace the portrait of Shakespeare to reflect a more diverse range of writers.
Esty said he asked for the collage to be installed early as a temporary version of what will eventually be a permanent display, "to allow us to start focusing our collective energies into some of the other important issues that we face, not to mention our ordinary work loads."
He went on to say that after winter break a working group will decide whether the poster should remain, and asked in the email for students to submit suggestions or attend the group's meetings.
Esty added that he would prefer a video monitor to display "student work, departmental events, and current projects," but was told by the College of Arts and Sciences that such a display would be too costly.
Lesser also encouraged students to submit suggestions to the cross-departmental working group. He made several suggestions himself, including an "answer key" so that visitors can guess who the figures are and "an Anonymous silhouette, since Anonymous is probably the most prolific author in history."
Lesser added a message of support for the display, which he thought looked "great" and "clearly better represents the range of authors and literatures that we teach in our department."