Cambridge college to remove window commemorating eugenicist

Gonville and Caius College responds to pressure from anti-racism activists by taking down window of Sir Ronald Fisher

A Cambridge college is to take down a window commemorating a eugenicist that was installed 30 years ago, after pressure from anti-racism activists.

Sir Ronald Fisher, the founding chairman of the University of Cambridge eugenics society, is memorialised in the stained glass window but Gonville and Caius College council said it recognised it caused “broad offence” and that they should no longer honour him.

The window had been included on an interactive map called Topple the Racists, created by Black Lives Matter supporters.

In a statement, the college said it would take it down subject to listed building consent after discussions this week. Recently, activists wrote “eugenics is genocide – Fisher must fall” on its Gate of Honour.

“The college is now aware of the views and actions of RA Fisher in a way that was not fully appreciated in 1989,” it said.

“We are also working on other initiatives including: reform of the disciplinary code and complaints procedures; implicit bias training for staff, fellows and students; and continuing the work of the ‘Legacy of Slavery’ committee once the archives reopen.”

The college said it had been aided in its decision by “thoughtful” papers and arguments presented by fellows, students and other members of the wider community.

The window – depicting a mathematical model devised by Fisher – was mounted in 1989 along with a series of others to acknowledge scientific discoveries made by former college members.

“His contribution to science, through his work on statistics and genetics, was fundamental to fields as wide-ranging as clinical trials in medicine through to increased production in agriculture,” the statement said.

“However, while Fisher was at Cambridge he became the founding chairman of the University of Cambridge eugenics society and his interest in eugenics stimulated his interest in both statistics and genetics. He was a prominent proponent of eugenics, both in his scientific work and in his public pronouncements throughout his career.”

Pippa Rogerson, master of Gonville and Caius college, said: “The college is committed to doing better in the way of diversity and equality at Caius. I look forward to the continuation of debate on race, class, history, science and current student experiences of Caius.

“We will develop together ideas of how to broaden and strengthen our community for all its members.”

A petition started by students asking for the window to be removed was signed by about 1,500 people.

The Tab said the window made “no mention of Fisher’s significant contributions to the eugenicist movement. Caius students and fellows eat, converse and celebrate in space that also acts as a commemoration of our racist history.”

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Mattha Busby

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