Due to students’ complaints about a lack of diversity in several murals depicting events during World War II, the University of Rhode Island has controversially decided to remove the paintings produced by Arthur Sherman, a veteran of World War II and a former student at the university.
According to some students, the 70-year-old murals are not compatible with the university’s values of inclusivity. The school’s Vice President of Student Affairs confirmed their removal, adding that some students said they did not “feel comfortable sitting in that space.”
The purpose of the murals, which portray various scenes such as veterans coming back to the United States and a University of Rhode Island class reunion, is to honor respect to those who lost their lives in World War II. The scenes include servicemen returning after the war, people on a beach, a university commencement ceremony, and students wearing their letter sweaters inside a vehicle, according to local news affiliate ABC 6.
“I have received complaints about the murals that portray a very homogeneous population predominately the persons painted and depicted on the wall are predominantly white and that does not represent who our institution is today,” said Kathy Collins, the University of Rhode Island’s Vice President of Student Affairs.
The murals feature mostly White people likely due to the fact that the majority of the combatants involved in World War II from the United States were White. New England states close to Rhode Island, such as New Hampshire and Maine, are still 95 percent White even today, while in the 1950s, these states were even more homogeneous.
The university has covered Sherman’s murals with school banners and the plan is for the historic murals to remain covered until renovation work finishes in the building they are on display.
The painter behind the murals, the 95-year-old Arthur Sherman, was a member of the University of Rhode Island’s class of 1950 and painted them in 1953.
When asked about the murals, Sherman said that he loved painting them.
“Well, it depicted that era,” Sherman said, recalling that a lot of students or his friends “would come by and say why don’t you do this, why don’t you do that so that’s what I did so everybody chipped in.”
Sherman also pointed out that he never had any formal education in the painting and only used to make cartoons.