By Joseph Garcia —
University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi responded to the Black Student Union’s demands that were released on May 31. In the letter addressed to BSU President Maliya Homer on June 3, Bendapudi addresses the student union’s demands, which included a severance between the U of L Police Department and Louisville Metro Police Department, and for U of L to rename its Overseers Honors House given the word “overseers” tie with slavery.
“I have pledged since I arrived at U of L to do my best always to celebrate diversity, foster equity, and strive for inclusion,” Bendapudi said in the letter. “I want to address each of these issues and explain how I intend to move forward.”
She explained that she spoke with Chief Diversity Officer Faye Jones, Chief of ULPD Gary Lewis and Criminal Justice Department Chair Cherie Dawson-Edwards for their perspectives on the issue of cutting ties with LMPD.
“Your request for us to immediately terminate our relationship with LMPD would not make our campus or its constituents safer, and it would be an insufficient answer to a very complex problem,” Bendapudi said.
Bendapudi said that its difficult to fully cut ties because of overlapping jurisdiction with U of L being in the middle of Louisville.
“We have an intricate relationship with LMPD that touches many parts of our campus and virtually all of our faculty, staff and students,” Bendapudi said. She said that U of L is home to the Southern Police Institute that provides training and courses taught by Criminal Justice faculty for officers.
“This is not to say there are not significant issues within the police force that must be addressed. This is true and they must, but our relationship with LMPD is necessary to the University for these reasons and more,” she said. “I believe the harder approach and the one we will commit to is evolving and molding our partnership with LMPD so it clearly reflects our commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, our Cardinal Principle.”
The commitments U of L is taking include: ensuring ULPD is the lead law enforcement agency when dealing with a member of the campus community, performing an equity audit on all criminal justice academic programs, reducing the need for external law enforcement support at athletic events, providing de-escalation and cultural sensitivity training for officers working university events or hired by ULPD, and leveraging the SPI as a catalyst for change.
“To reiterate, this is neither the beginning nor the end of the work we will do,” Bendapudi said. “We are actively assessing our partnerships and working to ensure they reflect the values of our institution and support the success of our students, faculty and staff.”
With regards to the Honors house, Bendapudi said that if U of L is committed to being an equitable anti-racist environment, then the term “overseers” should not be used at U of L.
“I take responsibility for this issue not being addressed earlier,” she said. “This sign has likely caused incalculable and unnecessary pain to many of our students, faculty and staff over the years. I am sorry that it was not addressed sooner, but it is done now.”
The word has been removed from the sign as a temporary fix. A new sign will replace the current one sometime before the start of the fall semester. Bendapudi said she also has a team removing all digital references of the term from U of L owned websites.
Bendapudi also said in her response, that moving forward she will require leaders to include more student representation on all change initiatives.
“Whether it is on the criminal justice academic programs equity audits, the development of officer training programs, or other measures that arise from our ongoing conversations, I will require our leaders to include student representation, particularly the Black Student Union, to ensure the approaches we take are informed by the lived experience of our most fundamental constituency,” Bendapudi said.
BSU Vice President Ni’Kerrion McDonald said that he doesn’t believe these decisions are enough, however.
“Coming out of the meeting with Dr. Bendapudi, the board and I felt as if they had already made up their mind regarding the predetermined ‘list of solutions,'” McDonald said. “We are obviously not satisfied with the outcome of our demands not being met. While the university takes gradual, but persistent action, we will continue to implement our own call to action.”
Maliya Homer, the BSU’s President, released a statement on June 6 informing the community of the actions U of L has taken. Alongside announcing the creation of the Breonna Taylor Memorial Scholarship, Homer called on the Louisville community to direct calls to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s office urging him to cut funding from LMPD’s budget of $189 million, as reported in fiscal year 2018-2019.
“We need the community to make it so that a partnership with LMPD is no longer a crucial piece,” Homer said. “The revolution will not stop because the university cannot immediately divest from LMPD,” Homer said. “At the end of the day, the university is a business. Businesses aren’t going to lead the revolution–young people are.”
McDonald said the BSU plans to hold the university accountable to its commitments. “Without follow-through and results, these incremental steps are just not enough,” he said.
File Photo // The Louisville Cardinal