Dr. Betsy Nabel, the president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School has decided to sanitize the school’s Bornstein Amphitheater . . . of white men. Nabel declared recently that she decided that all of the portraits of the historical leaders of the hospitals made minority students and visitors uncomfortable because they are white and male. Nabel therefore ordered their removal and was celebrated for her race-based cleansing of history.
I have previously expressed my strong opposition to the removal of portraits at schools like Yale where the portraits of white academics were removed as creating a hostile or intimidating environment.
Nabel appears to divine the unstated. The Boston Globe reported that she could tell that minorities were intimidated by portraits of white men: “I have watched the faces of individuals as they have come into Bornstein. I have watched them look at the walls. I read on their faces ‘Interesting. But I am not represented here.'”
She promptly declared that “That got me thinking maybe it’s time that we think about respecting our past in a different way.” Of course, removal of historical portraits on a racist basis does not rethink history but rather erases it. These portraits represent the leaders that made the hospital and the university great institutions — including the institution that Nabel inherited. There is no need to “rethink” history, just to understand it. These towering figures were part of the school’s history over the course of its evolution.
Among the portraits shifted to less visible spots is that of Dr. Harvey Cushing, the “father of neurosurgery.” Cushing studied at Harvard and Yale and laid the foundations for neurological medicine in the early 1800s. She also removed the portrait of the first chief of pathology, the pathbreaking Dr. William Councilman as well as Dr. Henry Christian, Brigham’s first chief of medicine.
Nabel was supported in this ahistorical and race-based approach by Dr. Jeroan Allison, a University of Massachusetts Medical School, who insisted that portraits of white men “reinforces that white men are in charge.” No, it just shows historical portraits of the leading figures at the institution.