SUSU President Emily Dawes has come under fire following controversial comments about painting over the World War One mural in the University Senate Room, Building 37. Emily Dawes has now issued a public apology and deleted both relevant tweets, whilst the VP of Student Communities, Emily Harrison, has issued a statement following individuals confusing her with her colleague.
The Rothenstein Mural (painted in 1916) depicts an academic procession with an ‘unknown’ soldier being granted a degree that they were unable to finish due to their service in the war. The artwork, which features many key academics from the WW1 era (such as the Poet Laureate Robert Briggs), was granted to the University of Southampton in 1959. In 2014 it was unveiled in the Senate room as part of the University’s ‘Great War: Unknown War’ project. Emily Dawes’ tweet last night, now deleted from the @SotonPres Twitter account, appeared to advocate defacing the picture, saying that she will ‘paint over’ the mural herself if needs be:
Mark my words – we’re taking down the mural of white men in the uni Senate room, even if I have to paint over it myself.
Emily Dawes has now issued a statement on Twitter, publicly apologising for ‘the offence and upset that I have caused’ and expressing that she ‘had no intention of the tweet being taken literally’, but ‘upon reflection have realised how inappropriate it was’. Wessex Scene had previously contacted Emily Dawes earlier this morning seeking clarification of her comments regarding the mural. The full statement can be seen below:
— Emily, Union Pres (@SotonPres) October 25, 2018
The apology it seems may not be sufficient for some people, with multiple petitions created on Change.org calling for her resignation. As of 20:45pm, the most popular petition had over 6,500 signatures. A Facebook ‘Union President Emily’s leaving drinks event’ has also been created by some students.
In an earlier tweet, which was also deleted today, it appears that Emily Dawes was aware of what the mural commemorated, supporting the idea of covering it up after Armistice Day with the use of some colourful language:
ONE OF THE WOMEN JUST SAID “IT’S nearly armistice day so are we covering up this tapesty??”AND HOLY SHIT. FUCK YES. GRL PWR #sotonsenatelive.
Three other SUSU sabbatical officers initially supported Dawes’ tweets, whether by liking or replying, with one suggestion, now deleted, of bringing their paintbrush.
The story has already been picked up nationally by the right-wing website Guido Fawkes, among others. In a reply to Guido Fawkes‘ posting of their article on Twitter, the Southampton University Conservative Association have said that they are ‘hoping to put a poppy wreath at the site of the mural tomorrow in order to give it the respect it deserves’. The University of Southampton Liberal Democrat society also strongly criticised the tweet late last night. On Thursday evening, Conservative MP for Southampton Itchen, Royston Smith, also tweeted on the news, stating that he was ‘pleased’ with Dawes’ apology and conveying the hope that ‘We can now draw a line under this disappointing day’:
Emily Dawes’ comments were insensitive and inappropriate. The anger this has generated shows the overwhelming respect and gratitude that exists for our veterans. I am pleased Emily has apologised. We can now draw a line under this disappointing day. https://t.co/1Qjf1nH63n
— Royston Smith (@Royston_Smith) October 25, 2018
Dawes’ comments have also received coverage from BBC News, The Sun and Daily Mail, with the latter featuring the article on its news website with the headline ‘You silly snowflake’.
Whilst Dawes has gained some support from those arguing that the mural fails to highlight the gender or ethnic diversity of those who fought in the First World War, her comments have primarily received negative responses from students and beyond. In light of Remembrance Sunday approaching, a debate has been sparked online as to whether her comments were insensitive to the sacrifice of those students who fought. A number of replies to Emily Dawes’ tweet state that they have contacted the University over her comments. One Twitter user has described Emily Dawes’ comments as ‘[o]ne of the most insensitive and disrespectful comments I have ever seen’.
Is this the mural to those heroic students from the university that had to forego their studies in order to fight for the freedom of Europe in WW1, and never got to graduate? I’m trying to think of a reason why anyone would actively want to deface a war memorial… ☹️🤔
— Henry James (@HH_Explores) 24 October 2018
According to the BBC, the University of Southampton has issued a statement regarding the tweets:
The comments made by the Students’ Union President regarding the Rothenstein Mural are not shared by the University of Southampton and do not represent the views of the University community.
We are very proud to display the Mural, painted in 1916, which serves as a memorial to all members of British universities who served in the Great War (World War I).
Similarly, the Students’ Union have said:
We do not believe the statement was said to cause upset or disrespect to anyone and does not follow our mission or values.
VP Student Communities Emily Harrison has now issued a statement via Facebook and Twitter regarding the story, stating that there ‘seems to be a mistaken identity between myself and my colleague’:
In relation to the Rothenstein Mural incident, please see my statement below. I will be making no further comment on this and kindly ask that everyone ceases commenting on my Facebook and/or Twitter posts. Thank you. pic.twitter.com/DK1TZGMl26
— Emily, VP Student Communities 🌍 (@SotonVPSC) October 25, 2018
Emily Dawes also used the official students’ union President Facebook account yesterday to condemn Suburbia Southampton’s initial advertising of an event with an image of rapper and convicted sex offender Tekashi69. Dawes’ use of her public platform encouraged the nightclub to remove the original image and replace it with an image of another American rapper, Post Malone.
Editor’s Note: This is a developing story which will be updated if and when more developments occur.