By Cameron Owens
On Tuesday, February 29, The University of Kentucky wrapped up Black History Month with a call to action town hall meeting in U-K’s Singletary Center to address issues regarding the lack of inclusiveness that minority students say they experience on campus. This event was unique in that it was open to the public. It served as a follow-up to previous discussions that nearly two dozen black students from UK held at President Capilouto’s home late last year to discuss issues about the racial climate on campus.
The UK Call to Action Town Hall started off with a chilling audio clip from a conversation among three UK students. One student in the recording uttered the words “F***ing N***** B**ch,” describing one of their African-American classmates. For some in the audience, the audio clip would leave their mouths agape due to the disbelief of the racial slurs and insults used in the conversation. For others, this is a reality they say is too familiar being a minority student on UK’s campus.
The two-hour call to action meeting featured members of the University of Kentucky Black Graduate and Professional Students Association (UKBGPSA) as well as the Social Justice Advocacy Group (SJAG). Individuals from each organization voiced their feelings on the racial insensitivity that they experienced on campus.
Della Mosley, a counseling psychology doctoral candidate and member of SJAG presented three of the main problem areas that black students felt they struggled with while attending UK. The first would be “Inclusion & institutional support,” followed by “Oppressive Images & Symbols,” and lastly a “Lack of representation.”
(PH. D Candidate Erica Littlejohn and M.D./PH.D Candidate Eseosa Ighodaro)
PH. D Candidate Erica Littlejohn and M.D./PH.D Candidate Eseosa Ighodaro president and vice president, respectively of UKBGPSA presented a survey that marked the responses of African-American students in relation to racial climate at UK. One survey responder said “I feel like African Americans are ‘tolerated’ on campus, but not welcome as “belonging” (as equal members) to the campus community.” “UK only appreciates black students with a ball in the hands. The rest of us are tolerated,” another survey responder said. These were just two of the responses from the open-ended survey that expressed the sentiments of black students not feeling included or safe on campus.
When asked if students felt that UK was free from racial conflict, nearly 75% of survey responders disagreed with that statement. Something that Eseosa said “needs to change.”
(Panel of UK Administrators that addressed future plans for UK to include more diversity)
In response to the students concerns, Dean of Students, Victor Hazard, director of the Office of institutional Diversity, Terry Allen along with other administrators were there in attendance to inform those at the town hall meeting about the progress that the university has made towards creating a more diverse and inclusive.
As a part of the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, UK administrators have included a section that will focus on Diversity and Inclusivity. The plan is to help enhance the University community by hiring and retaining a more “diverse population of faculty, administrators, staff and students.”
There is more about the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan on UK’s main website.(http://www.uky.edu/sotu/diversity-and-inclusivity).
The Violence and Prevention Center at UK has also offered to expand their services to provide support for those who experience bias or identity-based violence. Administrators are currently working on establishing a plan for the implementation of this service by the start of the Fall 2016 semester. (http://www.uky.edu/StudentAffairs/VIPCenter/support_bi.php).
UK is working vigorously to make campus a more diverse and inclusive environment for all students and faculty. In order to accomplish that, Allen said “We must make progress continuously.”