Posted March 7, 2016
Administrators offer several long range and some short term goals
LEXINGTON – Closed door meetings between concerned Black students and University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto have resulted in little more than public debate about a decades old mural painted in the entrance of Memorial Hall. A mural that many Black students have come to ignore or care very little about.
The bigger issues, such as public hate speech and micro-aggressive behavior toward Blacks along with steering by advisors away from STEM careers, appear to have gone undiscussed and unresolved. Motivated graduate students organized a Town Hall meeting to discuss the myriad of race related issues on campus and invited the university administration to attend.
The #UKCallToAction Town Hall meeting began with an audio taped conversation between some Caucasian male students making hateful and racist remarks about a Black female classmate. The men have been identified by students as part of the College of Dentistry.
It was this recording that prompted an August 2015 meeting of Black graduate students and faculty.
A letter was distributed that said in part, “This summer, an African American professional student was the target of racial hate speech by a group of her peers. After audio evidence was given to University of Kentucky (UK) administrators. After two months, the investigation was concluded by officials stating that nothing could be done and there were no repercussions for the students involved to our knowledge. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case and other students have experienced similar outcomes.’’
The letter outlined the students next steps, “In order to bring attention to these issues, we are creating an event that will bring awareness to student discrimination, UK’s failure to intervene, and our action plans for UK administrators. There needs to be a zero tolerance policy for racial misconduct, implementation of effective and mandatory cultural competency courses, and UK administered evaluation of the student body racial climate.’’
The result was the February 29 town hall meeting that drew hundreds to the Singletary Center on UK’s campus.
The organizers, Eseosa Ighaodaro and Erica Littlejohn, presented a program packed with students voicing their personal experiences with racism on campus via video and live statements. The results of a student created, Racial Climate Survey, revealed students are not sure how to make complaints about racial tensions and discrimination and also their doubt that the University administrators would resolve it satisfactorily.
As part of the program, several UK administrators addressed previously discussed concerns that the Black students voiced. The administrator’s remarks were primarily made up of plans for the future and very few steps that have been taken since the fall meeting with the University president and a select group of students.
Following are edited follow up questions to the Town Hall meeting answered by Jay Blanton, spokesman for UK and President Capilouto. The president did not attend the meeting, he was reportedly out of town.
Key Newsjournal (KNJ): The UK administrators spoke about Unconscious Bias Training to increase awareness among the UK community. Has President Capilouto had the training?
Blanton: Yes. He actually has participated in training at least three times in the last year, including the most recent training last week with the Board of Trustees.
KNJ: Have there been any specific policy changes or policy revisions based on this new knowledge?
Blanton: We are in the process, as you know, of developing a training curriculum that over the next year will be offered to every member of the UK community. A number of initiatives are underway or are about to begin related to creating a more welcoming and inclusive campus for all members of our community. Some of those initiatives and efforts underway include: Our new University Strategic Plan, which includes specific goals and metrics related to the diversity and inclusivity of our campus; we are developing and implementing a new University Diversity Plan; expanding the mission of the Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) Center and creating a Bias Incident Response Team; establishing new positions in the Graduate School, our Health colleges, and the Counseling Center that will be specifically attentive to diverse needs and creating more mentoring programs.
To be sure, we have much work left to do in the never-ending aspiration for a safe and supportive community for all.
KNJ: Has the president seen the results of the, grad student conducted, survey related to race and climate on campus?
Blanton: Yes, he has reviewed the survey and was able to watch the recent town hall meeting at Singletary that was convened by the Black Graduate and Professional Students Association. He believes the students have demonstrated exceptional leadership in ensuring that these issues remain front-and-center in the consciousness of our entire campus community.
KNJ: Any plans for a survey conducted by the University?
Blanton: Yes, as part of the unconscious bias training, a racial climate survey will be conducted in the coming months.
KNJ: There have been meetings and position papers from and with Black undergrad and graduate students, a letter from Black faculty all detailing problems and offering solutions to the racial issues they face on campus. How concerned are you about these issues and how quickly can the majority of the concerns be addressed?
Blanton: When any member of our campus community feels alienated or marginalized, then we all should be concerned. Clearly, much progress has been made. But, at the same time, there is a great deal of work to do. We know the work will never end. Progress on these efforts is a life-long effort and struggle, but it’s one to which we must be committed. To that end, some of these issues can be addressed quickly and some — such as additional scholarships and support — have been areas of focus and clear areas of progress. Hiring of faculty can be areas of short-term progress, but it’s also clear that such initiatives must be ongoing and, in some cases, will take time as they are done commensurate with hiring cycles and in competition with other institutions.
KNJ: Can you provide reaction or comment on the recorded audio of the male Caucasian students played during the Town Hall meeting?
Blanton: Under federal student privacy laws and our student code of conduct, I cannot discuss the specifics around the incident. I can confirm that the incident happened. It was reprehensible and inexcusable. The university took the issue very seriously and investigated it quickly and thoroughly. I cannot, however, discuss disciplinary actions that may have resulted from this incident. I can tell you that our expectation is that any time a matter or complaint is reported to our Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity, the processes outlined are followed.
The entire Town Hall meeting is available on YouTube: http://bit.ly/2250dV8