Imperial College drops Latin motto from logo amid anti-racism protests

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Imperial College London has dropped a 112-year-old Latin motto from its emblem after students complained about its links to colonialism.

The university, recently ranked eighth in a worldwide league table, said the move would help “support a diverse and inclusive community”.

Global Black Lives Matter protests have ramped up pressure on universities to reckon with their history.

The motto, which featured on a ribbon beneath the university crest since 1908, read “scientia imperii decus et tutamen”, commonly translated as “scientific knowledge, the crowning glory and the safeguard of the empire”.

The university said it would use a modified red, blue and gold coat of arms, stripped of the motto, on future graduation certificates, sports teams’ kits and all other materials.

Imperial College said the move would help promote diversity (PA)

“We know that this motto is a reminder of a historical legacy that is rooted in colonial power and oppression,” the university said.

“We choose not to deny that history but not to be defined by it either.”

Professor Alice Gast, the vice-chancellor, told staff she had “heard from many of you with concerns about the university motto and its appearance on our crest”. She said a working group would be established to “examine the College’s history and legacy”.

It comes as Bristol University, also a member of the Russell Group, announced it is reviewing its logo following the anti-racism furore sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African American, in US police custody last month.

Bristol University said it was reviewing its crest over imperialism links (AFP via Getty Images)

The badge carries the crests of Edward Colston, Henry Overton Wills III and the Fry family, all prominent imperial figures.

A statue of Colston, the 17th century slave trader, was torn down and dumped in Bristol harbour by protesters on June 7, prompting campaigners to target dozens of other monuments across the country.

Bristol University also revealed it has “commited to review” the name of the iconic Wills Memorial Building, reigniting a long-running campaign by students that saw the university refuse to rename it in 2017.

Wills, a tobacco industry chief born in 1828, donated around £10.5 million in today’s money to the institution, but campaigners say his fortune was tainted by his involvement with the slave trade.

Oxford protest over Cecil Rhodes statue – In pictures

Oxford protest over Cecil Rhodes statue – In pictures

Last year, Bristol hired Professor Olivette Otele, a slavery expert, to assess whether it needs to apologise for its links to the British Empire.

Prof Hugh Brady, Bristol’s vice-chancellor, said: “We know that the Black Lives Matter campaign has served to amplify existing concerns about the university’s history and whether we should rename the Wills Memorial Building, and other buildings named after families with links to the slave trade.”

Hundreds of protesters descended on Oriel College, Oxford, last week in their “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign demanding it bring down a statue of Cecil Rhodes, the Victorian imperialist, but the college stood by it.

More than 14,000 people have petitioned King’s College London demanding it rename its Guy’s campus, near London Bridge, as Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospital agreed to remove a statue of Thomas Guy, the 18th century slave trader and benefactor.

Liverpool University prompted criticism last week for agreeing to abandon William Gladstone, the four-time British Prime Minister, as the name for a halls of residence after students complained about his father’s links to slave-holding.

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