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Vigil meant to raise awareness of racism

For Joshua Watkins, and Ronald Harrison, racism on the University of Kentucky campus extends beyond isolated incidents — it is an ongoing problem at the school, they say.

Watkins returned to his UK residence hall room last year and found "Die" and a racial epithet scrawled across his door. Three weeks into this semester, Harrison noticed a racial slur written on the wall of the bathroom in his residence hall.

And last week, an effigy of President-Elect Barack Obama hung by a noose from a tree on UK's campus.

"Something that was 'isolated' decided to be 'isolated' again," Watkins said.

The two black students discussed their experiences with racism during a candlelight vigil Wednesday night. The event was held to raise awareness of racial issues on campus in response to the effigy that was discovered Oct. 29 near the Rose Street parking garage.

Joe Fischer, 22, a UK senior, and Hunter Bush, 21, of Lexington, have pleaded not guilty to second-degree burglary, a felony, and theft by unlawful taking and disorderly conduct, which are misdemeanors, in connection the with effigy hanging. Court documents show they have admitted hanging the effigy and their attorney said it was in response to a report that an effigy of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin had been displayed at a West Hollywood, Calif., home.

A racially mixed crowd of more than 75 students walked from the student center to attend the vigil that took place just yards away from the tree from which the Obama effigy hung.

Before the vigil, Mallorie Porter, a UK junior, attempted to recall her feelings when she heard about the effigy.

"I feel like every adjective has been used," she said.

The incident gave UK's image a black eye, Porter said, and she attended the vigil to help raise awareness of and find a solution to racism on campus.

"I don't want to be a part of the problem," she said. "I want to be a part of the solution."

Attendees at last night's vigil took turns reading aloud the poems Strange Fruit and Behind the Color Blind, which discuss lynching and racism, respectively.

Though many of the students expressed their support of Obama with T-shirts bearing the politician's face, they said the purpose of the vigil was not political or a celebration of Obama's victory.

"I'm hopeful this shows the entire Lexington community that we as a student body are moving toward a more inclusive way of life," Watkins said.

But Obama's message of hope and change echoed throughout the event.

"We're a strong campus. We're a solid campus," said Patrick Nally, a student who helped organize the vigil. "There's room for growth and room for change."