Faculty members circulate letter about U of L President's controversial Halloween costume
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- There's more fallout from a photo of University of Louisville President James Ramsey and his staff that appeared in the Courier Journal last week.
The picture shows Ramsey wearing a sombrero and a poncho. Those around him are also dressed in stereotypical Mexican garb.
Some are calling the Halloween costume racist and the photo prompted a protest outside Ramsey's office Friday.
Now, some senior U of L faculty members are also voicing their concerns.
"It does show some racial insensitivity that needs to be spoken to," said Pan-African Studies Department Chair Ricky Jones.
Jones has signed onto an open letter to Ramsey about the situation.
It says in part, "We can only wonder how it could not even have occurred to anyone that offense would be taken and that such behavior would contribute to the marginalization of Latinos/Latinas."
Jones says the photo shows a serious need for more diversity among U of L staff and faculty.
"I'm sure if you have a culturally conscious Hispanic person who's on the president's staff, he or she would have stepped forward and said, 'Hey, ya know, something's wrong with this,'" Jones told WDRB News.
The letter has been sent to other faculty members to sign.
"I think the bigger goal is to address it. To understand what the climate at the university is. To understand that things like this are not acceptable," Jones said when asked about the goal of this effort.
The letter goes onto say, "...this latest incident is only one of a drumbeat of crises that have embarrassed the university and made many ashamed to be associated with it."
It ends by asking Ramsey to describe how his office will fix the "unacceptable situation."
"I'm not one that believes we just try to skewer the leadership," Jones said. "We try to help them along if they're open to being helped. We have a crisis of leadership right now so we'll see where we go."
U of L Philosophy Professor Avery Kolers, the primary author of the letter, send us this statement:
"First off, outrage and frustration at not only this incident but at the pattern that it represents. As the letter's final paragraph emphasizes, this pattern of scandals and misjudgments has overshadowed years of hard work to raise U of L's profile and standing, and the value of a U of L degree, and we want it to stop.
Second, a number of faculty wanted to express *general* faculty support for those who had already stuck out their necks under a particular description (e.g., Hispanic and Latin@ faculty who had issued a statement, and the students who briefly occupied Grawemeyer Hall) and who might be vulnerable as a result. On the principle that there is safety in numbers, we thought it was important not to leave anyone vulnerable to retaliation.
Third, we thought that the harm of the photo went beyond the bare idea that some might take offense, and the misjudgment has nothing to do with the lack of intent to harm or offend. So it was important to explain why the lack of intent is not exculpatory. (If anything, it makes things worse.)"
Professor Tracy K'Meyer, who also signed onto the letter, sent us this statement:
"I found the administration's response to this incident completely inadequate. When Kathleen Smith addressed her boiler plate apology only to Hispanic and Latino members of the community I thought it was important for non-Latinos to say the President's brown face minstrel show was offensive to all who care about cultural respect. When President Ramsey released his own short note on Friday I wanted to add my voice to a call for him to explain himself more thoroughly. The intensifying media attention convinced me that this incident resulted from an absolute failure of leadership that has negatively affected the entire university, and so I wanted to help to provide a channel for a joint response. The note only went out late in the day so I do not know yet what the response has been."
His chief of staff said in a separate apology the president's office will start training on diversity issues.
To read the full letter, click here.
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