In May 2015, representatives of the QM Pan-African Society took #LeopoldMustFall to the student council at Queen Mary University, urging councillors to support the motion to have the two plaques which commemorate King Leopold II of Belgium removed and re-contextualised from the Octogan, Queens’ Building. The motion was rejected by the student council by two votes. The following is an updated version of the motion that was submitted for student council review.
Should the Union demand the removal and re-contextualisation of the two plaques located in the Octagon, Queens’ Building which commemorate and pay homage to King Leopold II of Belgium?
Proposed by: Queen Mary Pan-African Society
Seconded by: The Oxford Pan-Afrikan Forum and Gold Pan-African Society
What do you want? There are two plaques in the Octagon, Queens’ Building which commemorate and pay homage to King Leopold II of Belgium, a genocidal colonialist responsible for the death of an estimated 15 million people and the mutilation of thousands of others. The QM Pan-African Society want these plaques to be removed from their uncritical place in the Octagon Building and subsequently relocated to a museum or space, preferably one dedicated to the memorialization of the crimes of genocide, colonialism and imperialism, in which full contextualisation can be rendered.
For clarification, “re-contextualisation” includes the removal and relocation of the Leopold plaques to a museum or space – possibly one at Queen Mary – that ensures vital historical nuance. By this, we mean some form of commentary that addresses King Leopold’s colonial past and historical crimes, rather than (as the Leopold plaques do) a narrative of commemoration that obscures these realities.
Why do you want it? Queen Mary, an institution of higher learning and a Russell Group university with students and staff from a diverse racial, ethnic, and socio-economic background, should not have relics or symbols that commemorate or pay tribute to figures of the past whom were complicit in colonial exploitation, genocide and mass murder. Queen Mary should be a space that elevates the victims and people who resisted imperialism and colonialism as opposed to those who perpetrated it.
What impact will this have? By removing and recontextualising the plaques, Queen Mary will be taking progressive steps towards ensuring that students and staff, particularly those from an ethnic minority background, are made to feel more welcomed, respected, integrated and entitled to a sense of belonging on campus. The removal and re-contextualisation of the King Leopold plaques will go in favour of Queen Mary and its aim to create an inclusive, multicultural learning environment, particularly as QMUL gets ready to apply for the Race Equality Charter Mark as a means to proactively address the racialised differences in student experience, both on and off campus.
Since the QM Pan-African Society highlighted the presence of the plaques on campus and the inhuman legacy of King Leopold, there has been an outcry of students demonstrating the urgency to tackle this triggering issue.
The QM Pan-African Society launched an online petition which garnered over 600 signatures in the space of a few days.
We believe that QMUL breaches its own policies of social and educational inclusion, as outlined in The Student Experience, Teaching, Learning and Assessment Strategy (SETLA, 2014) and Strategy 2014, by keeping the Leopold plaques in place. These policies are stated in the following manifesto:
- “QMUL recognises the importance and educational benefit of learning in a socially diverse, multicultural, and international environment.” (SETLA, p.6)
- “Strategic Aim 4: to embed an international dimension in all QMUL activities and further enhance our stature as a leading global university.” (Strategy 2014, p.7)