U of L apologizes over photo of Ramsey, staff in Mexican costumes

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The University of Louisville promises "immediate training on diversity and racial equality issues" for President James Ramsey and his staff, after publication of a group photo showing staff and students in Halloween costumes some people saw as offensive.

The photo, published online by the Louisville Courier-Journal Wednesday, shows Ramsey, staff and students wearing Mexican sombreros and other stereotypical garb as they stood on the steps of the U of L president's mansion, Amelia Place.

U of L received "a handful" of phone calls and emails complaining about the photo starting Wednesday, school spokesman John Karman said.

The Louisville Cardinal student newspaper called the photo "racism" in an editorial published Thursday.

"The president of a school that prides itself in diversity opted to dress himself and his staff as a culture for Halloween. Not just a culture, but a minority that is frequently faced with prejudice," editor-in-chief Olivia Krauth wrote.

U of L responded with a statement emailed to all faculty, students and staff late Thursday.

"I want to express a sincere apology for the choice of Halloween costumes at our staff luncheon," said Ramsey's chief of staff, Kathleen Smith. "We made a mistake and are very sorry,"

Smith's statement references "deep regret for the hurt."

"This event shows we have much more to learn about our community," Smith said.

Ramsey was not available for comment.

When the diversity training or separate "campus conversations" will take place is still to be determined, Karman said.

"Hopefully these are good, first steps."

A person in the group, not Ramsey, asked for the photo, Karman said.  

He could not answer who bought the costumes.

A C-J photographer took the picture as part of a photo feature about decoration of the house for Halloween, said the newspaper's executive editor Neil Budde.

The U of L Foundation owns Amelia Place, a Highlands mansion which Ramsey and other school officials use for entertaining.

Here is Kathleen Smith's statement:

To Hispanic/Latino Faculty, Staff and Students at the University of Louisville

As Chief of Staff to the President, I write to express a sincere apology for the choice of Halloween costumes at our staff luncheon. We made a mistake and are very sorry. We have met with Sarah Nunez, U of L’s Director of the Office of Hispanic and Latino Initiatives, and shared with her our deep regret for the hurt this experience has caused. We commit to a series of campus conversations with students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members to further focus on diversity and racial equality issues underpinning the pluralistic society we all support. This event shows we have much more to learn about our community. We pledge to continue to work together to promote an environment that values all people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, country of origin, immigration status, sexual orientation or gender identity. Our office will institute immediate training on diversity and racial equality issues.

Kathleen Smith, Chief of Staff to the President

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