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UK Students, Administrators Seek Way Forward On Race (Updated)

Josh James

The conversation around race relations on the University of Kentucky campus continued Monday night with a forum dubbed “A Call To Action.”

A packed house awaited presenters at the Singletary Center event, where African-American students pressed administrators on their plans for addressing what the students described as institutional neglect, imbalances in hiring and recruitment, and a troubling racial climate.

The night began with an audio recording of unnamed UK students using racially offensive language, a case organizers argued is all too common and often goes unchecked.

Discussing the black experience at UK, undergraduate student Kelly Moore told the audience, "Upon meeting your advisor, you might be encouraged not to enroll in STEM-based majors. You probably have noticed by now that you will be the only black person in your class, from the professor to students. You maybe have been elected, in that very class, to be the representative of your entire race when your teacher carelessly asks you for the black perspective on a particular question."

Monday's forum comes amid growing protest movements on campuses across the U.S., a string of high-profile police killings involving African-Americans, and a number of racially-charged incidents at UK - including hate speech directed at protesters and an effigy of President Obama found hanging outside a university building in 2008.

Among the changes promised by administrators are an institutional online anti-bias training for all students, faculty, and staff, revisions to the Student Code of Conduct, and the expansion of mentorship programs, counseling services, and graduate student outreach. Faculty have also proposed the creation of an interdisciplinary UK Center for Equality and Social Justice.

But many of the changes remain in the planning stages and students are eager for details, especially when it comes to funding.

"We might not be satisfied with every answer, but it sounds like we can look forward to future meetings," UK Black Graduate and Professional Student Association President Erica Littlejohn told WUKY. "Hopefully, a lot of the asprations can get translated into actual change."

One absence that did not escape the attention of questioners in the crowd and on Twitter was that of UK President Eli Capilouto. Provost Tim Tracy told the crowd Capilouto was attending a meeting in Florida scheduled months in advance of the forum. Organizers expect to submit all unanswered questions gathered at the meeting to administrative officials for more formal responses.

Update 3-1-16:  Attendees at a town hall of race relations at the University of Kentucky were disappointed Monday night by President Eli Capilouto’s absence, but a spokesman for the administration says the forum laid a solid foundation for future talks.

Capilouto has been involved in two extensive meetings with African-American students, one at his house last November and another two weeks ago – both with the goal of increasing inclusivity and addressing racial prejudice on campus. Responding to Monday’s town hall, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said Capilouto shares the students’ concerns and the university is working toward progress on a number of fronts.

"I think we're doing more in terms of scholarships and support services than at any time in our history, but it's also clear by listening to the student leaders last night - who think arranged a very thoughtful, dynamic dialogue and forum - that there's a lot of work to be done. We're not where we need to be," he told WUKY.

Meetings between students and administration last year resulted in the covering of a controversial 1934 mural in Memorial Hall depicting scenes from the state’s history, including slaves working in a field. A faculty panel is working on a permanent recommendation.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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