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AAAS Faculty Letter to President Capilouto

Dear President Capilouto,

The Faculty of the African-American and Africana Studies (AAAS) program at the University of Kentucky, in the names of former UK student Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, David McAtee, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Dominique Fells, Riah Milton, and too many others, strongly condemn the unnecessary and racist violence that is daily inflicted upon Black Americans by white vigilantes and police who are paid to protect and serve.  We also recognize that police violence serves as the manifestation of broader systemic racism in the United States that leads to mass incarceration, economic inequality, and health inequities that disproportionately affect Black people.

We believe that our expertise can help the University as it faces the challenge of eradicating racism on campus. While the majority of us work in the College of Arts and Sciences, our ranks include faculty from the Rosenburg College of Law, the College of Education, Gatton College of Business and Economics, and the College of Fine Arts. Since its founding AAAS has been at the leading edge of research on race and racism in the Commonwealth and globally. We recently instituted a new major, so that for the first time undergraduates at UK can obtain a B.A. in African American and Africana Studies.  

AAAS is a campus leader in the recruitment and retention of Black faculty. We have been expanding our faculty under the leadership of the College of Arts and Sciences, but our efforts at diversifying the faculty at this University extend beyond a single college. In the 2018-2019 academic year, we hired seven new colleagues and we are preparing to announce another five new faculty members this fall. The vast majority of these nationally and internationally- recognized scholars are Black. We have achieved scholarly distinction despite the often ignored and invisible additional labor Black faculty perform in helping students navigate the inequalities they also experience and building bridges between the campus and local, national, and global Black communities. As researchers and educators, the faculty of AAAS possess unique and informed vantage points concerning the necessary steps that will help the University of Kentucky rise to meet the challenge of this moment.

Within AAAS, we have founded the Commonwealth Institute for Black Studies, a nucleus for cutting-edge research on race, racism, and the Black diaspora. Our interdisciplinary research is committed to social justice and advocacy.  It centers the experiences of Black people around the globe. The Commonwealth Institute will facilitate the use of Black Studies research in solving our most urgent problems with research support and outreach efforts.

We recognize that the University has already announced a set of steps to enhance diversity. We propose another series of actions that focus on deeper, structural change. These actions will alter the institutional realities concerning racism on our campus and move us toward racial equity—not just diversity and inclusion—in our community.

We have outlined the following additional steps that would have an immediate impact on racial equity. As you know, the problems we face will not end without a university-wide effort. These actions will demonstrate that Black lives truly do matter at the University of Kentucky.

  • The Faculty of AAAS stands in solidarity with UK staff, particularly those who work in financially insecure positions.  The importance of Black people on campus is not limited to those of us who work in the classroom. Housekeeping, food service and parking/ transportation employ a large number of Black staff who keep the campus operating. These same employees receive low wages and have been disproportionately furloughed.  We ask that the University make every effort to ensure that UK and its contractors maintain the current percentages of Black staff at every level as we weather the current financial environment and commit to increasing diversity among the staff at all levels.  In addition, funds should be allocated to allow the creation of a Black Studies Initiative for all staff,  modeled after the current Humanities Week, to better educate all those who come in contact with students about the history of racial injustice, and issues of equity in the U.S. and globally. 
  • The entire University should require a course on race and inequality for all undergraduates. The problems we face will not disappear without a society-wide effort.  We need to equip our graduates for a world in which they will be called upon to foment positive change. AAAS offers a wide range of courses that can meet this requirement. In addition, each department’s curriculum should require courses that reflect the experiences of people from diverse backgrounds.
  • The University must increase Black representation among faculty to 15%, which reflects the Black population of Lexington. Just 3.7% of the University’s present faculty are Black. Black faculty make up 4.2% of the Assistant Professor untenured rank, 5.2% at the tenured Associate Professor rank, and only 1.8% at the highest rank of full Professor. UK must do better in all Colleges and in all fields to recruit, retain, tenure, and promote Black faculty. Funding at the college and departmental level should be awarded based on academic units’ success or failure in these areas. A clear process for addressing discriminatory practices in promotion cases and yearly reviews must be implemented across the University. Low numbers of black faculty in departments across the university causes isolation among black faculty and hurts retention efforts. Without recruiting and retaining significant numbers of Black faculty, we are unable to provide an adequate and complete education for our students.
  • The University must appoint more Black faculty and staff to leadership positions. Only 4.5% of administrative, executive, and managerial leaders at UK are Black. At the most senior levels of administration, only the Interim Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity is Black. The small percentage of Black full professors at UK results in an even smaller number of Black department chairs (two, by our count).  At every level, UK lacks equity and the voices of Black leaders. Appointing Black faculty and staff to upper administrative positions will reflect an anti-racist practice that the University claims to uphold.
  • The University must increase support for Black students. A focused campaign should be undertaken to increase scholarship aid and support for the recruitment, retention and graduation of Black students—undergraduate, graduate, and professional. Although the University of Kentucky graduates the largest number of Black students in Kentucky, we are still below other institutions in the percentage of Black students in our student body.  Additionally, at a time of serious economic depression, basic needs resources and funding should be increased to attract, support, and retain Black students.
  • The University must establish a system or systems of accountability for individuals who commit racist and other acts of discrimination on campus.  Too many verbal and physical attacks on Black students, faculty, and staff occur without consequences for perpetrators.  UK must signal unambiguously that racist aggression, including all forms of hate speech and symbols of white supremacy, are unacceptable on all its campuses.
  • The University should fund the new Commonwealth Institute for Black Studies. The new, interdisciplinary Institute needs seed money for planning and setup, dedicated staff, a tenured faculty member to direct the Institute, research development, major speakers and a yearly conference, and outreach.
  • The University should join the Universities Studying Slavery collective and initiate a major study of the histories of slavery and racism within the institution. Given the intertwined histories of Transylvania, UK, slavery, and Jim Crow, we must know more about our legacy in order to shift our future trajectory. The initiation of  projects of these types at other universities have resulted in positive changes and renewed commitments to diversity as all stakeholders came to understand the long history and persistence of bias of their own institution differentiated from an abstract past. This initiative can be led by our accomplished AAAS faculty.
  • The University should institute a policy that minimizes its cooperation with federal state and local law enforcement agencies including Immigration Customs and Enforcement (I.C.E) and the Lexington Police Department. The university should suspend its relationship with local law enforcement in managing campus safety until they have made measurable reforms towards more equitable policing. We also believe the University of Kentucky Police Department should produce annual or semi-annual report cards that includes data by race on police interaction with students, staff, faculty and community members to include all stops, identification checks, questioning and detentions on campus and with its jurisdictional footprint. 
  • The University should rename Rupp Arena. The Adolph Rupp name has come to stand for racism and exclusion in UK athletics and alienates Black students, fans, and attendees. The rebuilding of the arena and the convention center offer an opportunity to change the name to a far more inclusive one, such as Wildcat Arena. In addition, the University should survey all campus buildings and remove all names of enslavers, Confederate sympathizers (such as William C.P. Breckinridge), and other white supremacists.


The Faculty in African American and Africana Studies, University of Kentucky

June 22, 2020

Cc: David Blackwell, Provost

       Sonja Feist-Price, Vice President for Institutional Diversity