WKU Public Radio News Staff
Thu October 30, 2008
Obama Effigy Incident Prompts University of Kentucky Race Relations Forum
By Meghan Quigley, WUKY
Lexington, KY – University of Kentucky officials said they were "outraged" about an effigy of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama that was found on campus on Wednesday. UK President Lee Todd sent a campus-wide email confirming the situation.
A second email pertaining to the effigy reached across the university from the provost Wednesday afternoon. Kumble R. Subbaswamy notified students, faculty and staff that a campus forum would be held to address the racial and cultural issues brought on by the incident.
UK's Memorial Hall began to fill up just before 7 p.m. on Wednesday with a diverse group of students, faculty, staff and local citizens.
Most people in attendance expressed their anger and heard speeches from UK leaders, city officials and student representatives.
President Lee Todd began the forum stating his reaction to the effigy.
"I was offended, embarrassed, because this disgusting episode is not one we need to tolerate on this campus," Todd said.
UK's Vice President of Institutional Diversity, Judy "J.J." Jackson, was appointed six months ago in response to an editorial cartoon that ran last year in a student-run newspaper comparing fraternity recruitment of minorities to a slave auction.
Jackson told the assembled crowd Wednesday night that fighting racism is not just an institutional responsibility, but a personal one as well.
"You have the power as an individual to not only mitigate what has happened, but to help to diminish the possibility that it would happen again," Jackson said.
In addition to Jackson, Porter G. Peeples, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Fayette County, told the audience that the incident would change the tone of remarks he was scheduled to make about Kentucky's progress in overcoming racial prejudice, before the National Association of Community College Board of Trustees.
Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry called for unity across the campus as well as the city.
"I am confident that the painful lessons experienced today will... enable us to grow as a community, so that our children and our grandchildren will not be subjected to the hatred and ignorance that we encountered today," Newberry said.
A number of student representatives voiced their feelings. Travis Darden, president of UK's Black Student Union, said an act like this undermines his group's daily efforts to alleviate racial issues on campus.
"We need everyone on this campus to recognize that there is a problem, and it's our duty to go out and correct this problem," Darden said.
Student Government President Tyler Montell agreed, stating that the student body needs to come together in these difficult times.
"Our time at this university is way too short to sit idly by and allow these things to continue," Montell said.
The audience also heard from representatives of the College Republicans and Democrats. Both committed to put aside their ideological differences and work together to help heal a campus that has once again been reminded of its checkered past in regard to race relations.
An investigation into the incident is ongoing. Police say there is no evidence that anyone connected with the school is responsible for the effigy.