Trinity recently decided to change the name of the Schrodinger Theatre back to its original name — Physics Lecture Theatre. This decision was made in light of evidence revealing Erwin Schrodinger to be a serial abuser and paedophile, and has been generally accepted as a justified action. Yet, as with many recent attempts to shift namesakes and honorifics away from historic individuals who have committed moral wrongs, there remain a few people eager to call this an act of censorship. Are these actions — striking a name from a plaque, renaming streets, tearing down statues — examples of silencing? Well, no, I believe they absolutely are not.
“There is no need now to continue wasting energy and attention honouring a horrible abuser with such a thing as a name above a door.”
To be clear, the decision of the School of Physics to ditch Schrodinger’s name was completely correct. As a physics student myself who has lectures on a near-daily basis in that room, I felt that the action taken has been sincere and well-thought through. Communication on the reasoning behind the decision and additional actions has been clear and comprehensible. Despite his achievements in the field and wide recognition as an important figure in science, Schrodinger was, simply put, not a good person. There is no need now to continue wasting energy and attention honouring a horrible abuser with such a thing as a name above a door. It is possible to understand and recognise his important contributions to physics without feeling the need to keep him on some sort of pedestal in our society.
“We are not silencing the work of Schrodinger, or stopping people from having access to his views or information about him — his name remains in textbooks & his theories on courses.”
This is simply not censorship. We are not silencing the work of Schrodinger, or stopping people from having access to his views or information about him — his name remains in textbooks & his theories on courses. This is a late realisation that this man should not be valued in this way anymore and needs not be recognised in our day-to-day lives. I do not need to be reminded of him every time I go to college, I’m aware of who he was and what he did and I do not think his work entitles him to a place of honour anymore. His abuses did not appear to have much of an impact on him at the time, and nobody is being muzzled by finally responding to those actions with consequences.
People won’t suddenly forget who he is or his work purely because there’s no longer a room bearing his name. The idea peddled that people would become ignorant of certain histories or events because there’s no longer a physical man-made reminder of it visible is farcical.
Anybody banking on that notion as a good basis to continue having places named after awful people might do well to remember the removal of a statue of the slave-trader Edward Colston. In the summer of 2020, a statue of Colston was torn down in Bristol and chucked into a river (a joy to watch). I don’t know about you, but I certainly had no idea who Colston was until I saw his statue going for a swim. This collective act has brought a greater awareness to Colston and, importantly, his terrible actions as a slave trader. With the statue toppled and out of sight, we are not at a higher risk of forgetting about the crimes of the slave trade and the colonialism of the British. History centres on action and inaction — the action of pulling down monuments to such villains is the creation of new history which puts a spotlight on issues that have been previously ignored. The inaction of allowing such individuals to continue to enjoy a position of value on our streets and in our classrooms is worthless in comparison.
There is nobody on this planet – past or present – who has a right to namesake; much less anybody guilty of abuse. People’s need to focus on the loss of a namesake is bizarre, and comes across as an odd fixation on the most basic of acts available to shift who we choose to honour and display what we value as a society. By focusing needlessly on such, it shows a contentless in openly letting people know that something no longer being named after an abuser is more of an issue than the abuse carried out. A failure to display no empathy or thought for those negatively affected by the actions nullifies an argument of censorship. It may be the unfortunate case at times that by perpetuating a need to keep “significant” historical figures in such positions of remembrance, we are in fact censoring the victims of their wrongdoings by disregarding the need for consequence and nuance.
“Yet the point remains that however small, superficial, or even tokenistic the difference may appear to some in terms of renaming classrooms, etc., there is value in acknowledging the wrongs individuals we hold esteemed have committed, and making the conscious and collective effort to highlight the names and stories of those we believe to be better and more representative.”
There are wider, and perhaps more impactful or important, discussions to be had specifically about Trinity and how we continue to uphold values of colonialism through our curriculum, traditions, and systems as a university with origins embedded in the British Empire. Yet the point remains that however small, superficial, or even tokenistic the difference may appear to some in terms of renaming classrooms, etc., there is value in acknowledging the wrongs individuals we hold esteemed have committed, and making the conscious and collective effort to highlight the names and stories of those we believe to be better and more representative. There are countless instances of places on campus being named after particularly wicked people, the situation with Schrodinger is hopefully a step in the right direction for the college to rectify any mistakes (known and unknown) it has made in appreciating those who do not deserve it. Nobody is too intelligent, important, or influential to escape the duty we have in showing the world who we believe is an example to others.