By Kyeland Jackson, Ben Spicer & Sarah Rohleder–
Nearly 100 concerned students and faculty gathered at the Student Activities Center Sunday, Nov. 1 to discuss the controversy surrounding President James Ramsey and his infamous photo published by the Courier-Journal Oct. 28. They said two emailed apologies from the admimistration are not enough.
The picture portrayed the president and staff garbed as “Mexicans” with sombreros, maracas, fake mustaches and mantilla veils. Ramsey emailed an apology Friday afternoon for his actions. Ramsey said, “I want to personally apologize for the recent incident and any pain that it may have caused our students, faculty, staff and the community. We did not intend to cause harm or to be insensitive.”
Members of the University of Louisville Student Assembly Against Discrimination were visibly upset and offended Sunday. Even faculty members have expressed their disapproval with the photo.
Tracy K’Meyer, chair of the department of history, spoke about the issue on the SAAD Facebook page.
“What’s next, blackface minstrel shows? So much for trying to attract members of the rising Latino population to our school,” K’Meyer said in a Facebook comment. “Your actions have consequences for us all. You need to apologize personally to the whole university for this lack of cultural understanding and for making us all look bad.”
On Friday, more than 75 students gathered at Grawemeyer Hall to demand an apology.
Editor-in-chief Olivia Krauth blasted the costumes in a column Oct. 29, setting off a media firestorm that swept the image across the country. Her article discussed her shock and frustration at the president’s actions. Krauth’s article lit up The Cardinal’s servers and was cited by dozens of national news organizations.
The President’s Office issued an apology the evening of Oct. 29. Written by Kathleen Smith, the president’s chief of staff, it said, “We made a mistake and are very sorry.”
Students gathered under The Thinker statue around 1 p.m. on Oct. 30 in protest. Abhorred by what they claimed to be hypocrisy that mocked the university’s cultural mission, the group issued demands. Those demands included the call for a public apology from Ramsey, faculty involvement in culture education programs and inclusion of a cultural center in the 2020 development plan.
Chants of “Get Ramsey on the phone” and “Racist Ramsey’s gotta go” mingled with stomps and cheers outside the President’s Office.
Former U of L presidents, frozen in landscapes of paint and oil, watched the scene unfold silently. Twenty-four minutes after the protest began, Ramsey issued an apology to the community. “We did not intend to cause harm or to be insensitive,” said Ramsey. He apologized for any pain caused to students, faculty, staff and the community.
Freshman Seth Drake participated in the Friday protest. Drake said their purpose is to show student solidarity and urge the university to respect all cultures.
Freshman Nuri Thompson expressed his disappointment about the incident.
“We are supposed to be one of the most inclusive schools in the south, yet our representatives uphold these systems of dominance,” Thompson says.
Student Alexander Hardy stressed the importance of spreading awareness. “People don’t think they’re offending people when they really are,” Hardy said. “That’s one reason why I came here. It [society] needs to be more aware.”
Ethnicity played a factor in why some protested. Both Hardy and Thompson are black and say their culture was part of what brought them there. “It may not affect me personally, but if I sit here in complacency, then nothing will happen,” Thompson says.
Drake said his white, male culture played a role in his attendance as well. “As a member of a majority community, we have the responsibility to stand up for those who are underrepresented in society,” Drake said.
During the rally, freshman Maria Lopez spoke to students about the photo. Lopez explained the insult in assuming Hispanics dressed like Ramsey and his staff.
“I’m very disappointed as a Hispanic,” she said. “It’s making fun of our culture and our religion.” On the verge of tears, Lopez expressed her sense of confusion as to why this happened, saying U of L promised cultural diversity yet reinforced racial stereotypes.
Sunday night, students and faculty gathered to discuss their demands. The caucus of protesters discussed their convictions as well as confusion. Some were conflicted, stating Ramsey likely did not intend to offend their culture. Other’s were discontent with Ramsey’s actions and explained that it wasn’t a matter of intention, but ignorance. Tanya Adwells, a student originally from Mexico, defended the matter. “No one intends to be a racist,” Adwells said. “It’s like if you get shot. Someone can say ‘I’m sorry I didn’t mean to,’ but it still hurts.”
The group states on their Facebook page that they intend to meet with the president Tuesday, Nov. 3
Photos by Wade Morgen & Sarah Rohleder / The Louisville Cardinal