Education

‘I’m very concerned.’ UK’s black freshman enrollment drops by double digits.

‘I’m not expecting everyone to like it.’ Artist reimagines controversial UK mural.

Artists Karyn Olivier and Jay C. Lohmann convert the dome ceiling of University of Kentucky's Memorial Hall entrance into public art to contextualize a controversial mural found within the building made by Ann Rice O'Hanlon in 1934.
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Artists Karyn Olivier and Jay C. Lohmann convert the dome ceiling of University of Kentucky's Memorial Hall entrance into public art to contextualize a controversial mural found within the building made by Ann Rice O'Hanlon in 1934.

The number of black freshman at the University of Kentucky dropped by 50 students this fall, an alarming statistic for a school that’s been pushing for more diversity.

Provost David Blackwell said officials attribute the decrease to several factors, including an increase in the number of students who identify themselves as being of two or more races. In addition, he said, UK last year lost student recruiters in the crucial markets of Chicago and Atlanta.

Blackwell said UK has already replaced the two recruiters, in addition to adding two more to focus on high schools in Kentucky and around the country. In addition, UK will rehire a company that helps publicize applications to specific student populations.

“I’m very concerned about this,” Blackwell said. “Hopefully, with the correctives we’ve put in place, this will turn around.”

The number of black students dropped 11.9 percent, from 420 in 2017 to 370 this fall, while those who identify as two or more races jumped from 199 to 238. UK hit an all-time high for black students in 2014, with 429.

UK has historically lost many in-state black students to the University of Louisville; that school’s total black enrollment in 2017 was 10.4 percent compared to UK’s 6.9 percent.

Two years ago, President Eli Capilouto met with the UK Black Graduate and Professional Student Association over a list of requests they made to improve the racial climate on campus, including accountability measures for every department to make sure they meet diversity goals. One result of those meetings was new contextual art placed around a controversial mural in Memorial Hall.

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Paintings of African-Americans, taken from the mural in the lobby, are part of Artist Karyn Olivier’s new work titled “Witness,” which she is creating around the dome in the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Hall. Olivier was chosen to create contextual art around UK’s controversial 1930s mural by Ann Rice O’Hanlon, which is located in the lobby. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Representatives of that group were not immediately available for comment Friday.

Sonja Feist-Price, vice president for institutional diversity, said UK has done more than ever to “ensure that UK is the academic institution of choice for African-American students, not just in the state but across the country.”

Jamahl McDaniel, who attended UK and now works at the MLK Center there, said UK does a good job of introducing under-represented minorities to campus, “but sometimes there’s a disconnect when they get there.”

McDaniel said it’s still hard for black students to feel they can talk openly about why UK seems not always welcoming.

“What is the balance?” he asked. “How do you make everyone feel comfortable while acknowledging the realities of why so many people don’t feel comfortable?”

Overall, the 2018 freshman class was 5,102 students, with 36 percent coming from out of state. The average ACT score was 25.9, the highest ever, and the average GPA was 3.76, also a record for UK.

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