Harvard University students during a protest at the school's Arthur M. Sackler Museum in April 2023 (photo Hakim Bishara/Hyperallergic)

The University of Oxford is removing the Sackler name, which has come under public scrutiny in the last several years for its ties to the opioid crisis, from several spaces and positions. The renowned research university announced yesterday, Monday, May 15, that it has “undertaken a review of its relationship with the Sackler family and their trusts” and decided that “the University buildings, spaces and staff positions using the Sackler name will no longer do so.”

The name will be taken down from two galleries in the Ashmolean Museum, the library, and three staff position titles, though Oxford will retain the family name on a plaque on the school’s Clarendon Arch and on a donor board in the Ashmolean Museum for the purpose of “historical recording of donations.” The school also said it will retain any donations received from the family and their trusts “for their intended educational purposes.” (The university claims that it has not received any new donations from the family or their trusts since 2019, though a recent report by the Financial Times claims the school continued to accept money from the Sacklers in the last two years, based on documents reportedly reviewed by the publication.)

“This is a major victory for victims and students who do not deserve to have the name of the family that ignited the overdose crisis in America displayed at their institution,” a spokesperson from the advocacy group PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) told Hyperallergic. 

Founded by artist Nan Goldin, the group has staged protests in museums around the world that have accepted donations from the Sackler family and continues to fight to hold opioid manufacturers accountable. Last month, PAIN Sackler protesters were joined by 100 Harvard students at a “die-in” in the university’s Arthur M. Sackler Museum to demand the institution take down the Sackler name.

“Harvard remains one of the last holdouts, and it’s a great disgrace to their legacy, to their students and staff, and to the victims of the Sackler Families crimes,” PAIN continued.

Oxford now joins a long list of institutions — including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre Museum, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Tate Museums, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the American Museum of Natural History — which have all done away with the Sackler name. Members of the Sackler family own the now-bankrupt OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma, which downplayed the addictive qualities of the prescription painkiller that played an integral role in the opioid epidemic. Since the mid-90s, over half a million lives have been claimed by opioid-related overdoses.

Oxford has not yet responded to Hyperallergic‘s immediate requests for comment.

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Maya Pontone

Maya Pontone is a Staff Writer at Hyperallergic. Originally from northern New Jersey, she studied journalism and political science at Emerson College in Boston, MA. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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