Racial incidents prompt University of Kentucky students to organize demonstrations

Incidents prompt 2 small demonstrations

awilson1@herald-leader.comApril 1, 2011 

Two quickly called public demonstrations drew more than a dozen students Thursday who took a short walk through campus carrying signs questioning the University of Kentucky's commitment to opposing racism on campus.

The small protests were in response to a March 24 incident in which third-year law student Ches Clark said he found a sign in a bus shelter on South Limestone near Maxwelton Court that read: "How Do You Spell Nigger. OBAMA."

Clark posted a copy of it on his Facebook page where protest organizer UK senior Dwight Lacy, 22, first saw it.

Lacy said the bus shelter poster is just the latest in a long line of racial incidents on campus that have been unchallenged by the university's administration. The students are frustrated, he said, after the administration failed to address incidents like the hanging of an Obama effigy in 2008 and a cartoon that incited some hate speech and threats when it appeared in the campus newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, in 2007.

Fifteen students stood in the cold in Patterson Office Tower plaza in the late morning, passing out fliers and holding signs that asked, "United We Stand, Where Does UK Stand?" and "In the Top 20?"

Specifically, said Lacy, the students would like to see the administration create a campus facility, as it did for women and violence, that researches racial intolerance. He said the group would like to see the roots of harassment and intimidation addressed and "changes spread to those who live here, because we have a cycle here and change graduates as well."

Judy Jackson, UK's vice president for institutional diversity, said the university has been meeting with a particular group of students since November to work on curriculum changes that would address exactly what Lacy is requesting.

"We've been listening and responding," she said. "We would be happy to talk to others, of course. Our biggest problem sometimes is putting the news of changes in the right places so the right people see it."

Jackson said that no one in the administration takes any of these incidents that Lacy pointed to lightly. But that "we as a country have not yet had the courage to grapple with a lot of these issues, and we, as a college campus, are a microcosm of this country."

Sometimes, she said, things don't change fast enough for students.

"I understand the emotions," she said. "I am glad they are asking questions."

Enku Ide, a 27-year-old sociology graduate student, said he joined the rally Thursday because "it's always important to take a stand against racism," which he called "a cancer on our society."

Lacy stood next to a woman holding a sign that read: "When Will It End?"

He took that one on gingerly, then rethought. "I can't call it," he finally said. "It should have ended with Lyman T. Johnson."

Lyman T. Johnson was the plaintiff whose successful legal challenge opened the university to African-Americans in 1949. By the time of that lawsuit, he had already earned a master's degree in history from the University of Michigan in 1931.

Reach Amy Wilson at (859) 231-3305 or at 1-800-951-6397, Ext. 3305.

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