Skip to main content

Open Letter to President Eli Capiluto

Dear President Capilouto, Provost Tracy, Senior Administration and Members of the Board of Trustees:

As University of Kentucky faculty, we write this letter in response to the decision to cover the mural in Memorial Hall. Although we do not have a uniform opinion on whether this is an appropriate decision, we are in agreement that covering up a decades old mural is not enough to improve problems of inclusion. We agree that the university could and should do more to improve the conditions on campus for all people of color.  

First, we applaud the two dozen students with whom you met privately and their willingness to express their concerns and experiences at the University of Kentucky. It is not easy for young people to sit across from those in authority and speak truth to power. As faculty who work with students on a daily basis, we are well aware of the harassment, isolation, and marginalization that not only Black students, but also Latina/o, Asian and LGBTQ students feel on this campus. Further, Black faculty and staff, as well as other faculty and staff of color, are not immune to experiencing the hostility and systemic racism experienced by students. As undergraduate students are just one segment of the Black community on campus, the absence of Black faculty and staff in this very important conversation is demonstrative of the piece-meal approach that is often taken in matters of this kind. 

Second, the closed-door nature of the discussions that have yielded the decision to cover the murals betrays the role of the university as a place for open dialogue and education. The opposing views held by the undersigned would have enriched the dialogue between the students and administration. It could have provided the university community with the space to learn about these murals, why some find them objectionable, and why some do not. Overall, a more open process would have been true to our mission. At day’s end, the skill we uniquely possess and at which we excel is our ability to educate. We owe it to our students and to ourselves to model civil discourse on matters on which we disagree and agree.

Instead, we are left with a single gesture and lingering questions. Is this the most significant race-based issue at the University of Kentucky? Is the campus environment in which students view the mural that has led some to call for covering a piece of art also an issue? Is all the administration can provide to make our campus more inclusive is so many yards of fabric? Draping this mural is not a welcome mat. Black students, as well as faculty and staff, at the 2 University of Kentucky are surrounded by walls that are silent about their history at the University, in the Commonwealth and the world that we purport to open for all our students. Real change requires more. 

We offer concrete steps the university can take if it is sincere in its stated goal of improving the experience of Black students, faculty and staff as well as other people of color at the University of Kentucky.

  • The University should commission Black artists to create their own images of slavery and other aspects of African American and Black Kentucky History to counter the impact of the mural in Memorial Hall. We agree that what we put on our walls and the images we pass daily are important. The University is in the middle of a massive construction effort and will have many walls to cover. We should be attentive to those who are missing from the walls in the spaces and places we inhabit.
  • The University can hire a cluster of scholars of Slavery and Emancipation to replace the one scholar in this area, Joanne Melish, who retired last year. The discussion of representations of slavery would be aided by making sure scholars with this expertise are present on campus.
  • The University should expand current tools to track incidents of racial harassment against students and others in the University community. The University has begun a laudable effort to track campus safety through the C.A.T.S. program. The inclusion of additional questions about racial harassment would allow for an empirical view of student experiences and some guidance on how to develop programmatic and institutional responses.
  • The University should provide financial support to expand the number of faculty of color at the University of Kentucky across all ranks and disciplines. This is consistent with the current Strategic Plan. However, we believe the current timeline set out in the strategic plan should be accelerated to 2018 rather than 2020.
  • The University should hire a dedicated person in the admissions office to increase the enrollment of students of color in undergraduate and graduate programs and the professional schools, particularly those who are Kentucky residents. We, too, believe in the Kentucky Promise and would like to see it extended to the Commonwealth’s communities of color. 
  • The University needs to investigate expanding aid for students of color and increasing mentorship by adding substantive programs (e.g., the McNair Program which is a Federal TRIO program, and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program) that have been successful in attracting and retaining students of color. 
  • The University of Kentucky, in conjunction with the University of Kentucky Counseling Center, should hire culturally competent mental health professionals, with training, experience, and expertise in working with racially and ethnically diverse populations, to develop, implement, and evaluate outreach programming, consultation, and crisis intervention services for UK faculty, staff, students to address personal, cultural, and collective trauma stemming from campus-based, local, and national incidents of racism, racial microaggressions, implicit bias, and/or racialized violence. 
  • The University should follow the lead of many other universities and require all students to take a course on race and ethnicity as part of the requirements for graduation. 
  • The University should expand financial support of the African American and Africana Studies Program, as well as other units that aid in the expansion of knowledge on subjects of race, culture and marginalization like Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies, Asian Studies, Appalachian Studies, and Gender and Women’s Studies.
  • The University should conduct a national search to fill the Vice President of Institutional Diversity position left vacant by the retirement of J.J. Jackson.
  • The University should embed inclusiveness in every aspect of campus life from those in leadership to students, faculty and staff that are recruited campus wide. The University can be more systematic in setting goals for departments and colleges in terms of recruiting and retaining diverse students, faculty and staff and creating space for members of underrepresented groups in meaningful places of leadership. A serious commitment to inclusiveness would consist of creating economic incentives for the executive team(s) of the University and each college on campus to meet specific goals. 

Creating an environment of inclusion is the responsibility of every individual on campus, not just a select few. In order for meaningful and lasting change to occur at the University of Kentucky, we as a community must take proactive steps, expecting the very best of one another and working to the common goal of equal access in thought, word and deed for all stakeholders in and around the University. 


Submitted by the following core faculty of the African American and Africana Studies Program:

Melynda Price, Law
Nicole Jenkins, Von Allmen School of Accountancy
Lisa Cliggett, Anthropology
Reinette Jones, UK Special Collections Research Center
Anastasia Curwood, History
Nazera Wright, English
Jacqueline Couti, Modern & Classical Languages, Literatures and Cultures (MCLLC)
Chamara Kwakye, Gender & Women’s Studies
DaMaris Hill, English
Frank X Walker, English
Wayne Lewis, Educational Leadership Studies
Courtney Thomas, Sociology

University of Kentucky Faculty, Lecturers and Graduate Teaching Assistants:

Jackie Murray, MCLLC
Karen Petrone, History
Juliana McDonald, Anthropology
Tad Mutersbaugh, Geography
Sarah Lyon, Anthropology
Rob Jensen, School of Art and Visual Studies
Jenna Goldsmith, English
Nicole Huberfeld, Law
Cortney Lollar, Law
Molly Blassing, MCLLC
Cheryl Cardiff, English and Creative Writing
Mathew Willson, Geography
Leon Sachs, MCLLC
Mitchell Snider, Geography
Matthew Wells, MCLLC
Cynthia Vines, Von Allmen School of Accountancy
Robert Rabel, MCLLC
Shannon Bell, Sociology
Herman Farrell, Theatre and Dance
Carrie Oser, Sociology
Edward Morris, Sociology
M. Cristina Alcalde, Gender & Women’s Studies
Candice Crowell, Educational, School and Counseling Psychology
Jill Rappoport, English
William Stoops, Behavioral Science
Srimati Basu, Gender & Women’s Studies
Ingrid Adams, Dietetics and Human Nutrition
Hannah Knudsen, Behavioral Science
Anna Secor, Geography
Jeffory Clymer, English
Hang Nguyen, History
Danielle Stevens-Watkins, EDP
Carol Mason, Gender & Women’s Studies
Christina Studts, Health Behavior
Amy Murrell Taylor, History
Pearl James, English
Charlie Yi Zhang, Gender & Women’s Studies
Allison Connelly, Law
Louise Graham, Law
Scott Horn, Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Studies
Julia Johnson, English
Thomas Janoski, Sociology
Fred Danner, Educational, School and Counseling Psychology
Sycarah Fisher, Educational, School and Counseling Psychology
Yanira Paz, Hispanic Studies
Jasper Waugh-Quasebarth, Anthropology
Alice Turkington, Geography
Michelle Sizemore, English
Scott Hutson, Anthropology
Cyndy Harbett Miller, Communication
Olaf Jaimer-Riveron, Anthropology
Jennifer Bird-Pollan, Law
Christine Smith, Geography
Lilian Milanes, Anthropology
Hannah Pittard, English
Daehyun Kim, Geography
Lee Bullock, Anthropology
Mathew Zook, Geography
Stacie Hatfield, Anthropology
Bethany Williams, Anthropology
Christopher Pool, Anthropology
Sue Roberts, Geography
Erin Koch, Anthropology and Health, Society & Populations
Kristin Monroe, Anthropology
Robin Vanderpool, Health Behavior
Daniel Rowland, History
Janice Fernheimer, Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Studies and Jewish Studies
Kate Eddens, Health Behavior
Ana Liberato, Sociology
Akiko Takenaka, History
Denise Simpson, Student Affairs
Anita Fernander, Behavior Science, College of Medicine
Kate Black, Archivist (Retired)
Dwight Billings, Sociology
Karen Tice, Gender & Women’s Studies
Brenna Byrd, MCLLC
Zada Komara, Anthropology
Melissa Adler, School of Information Sciences
Cynthia Ruder, MCLLC
Ramona Stone, Health Behavior
Joan Callahan, Philosophy and Gender & Women Studies (Emerita)
Suzanne Pucci, MCLLC
Joseph Hammer, Educational, School and Counseling Psychology
Jeanmarie Rouhier-Willoughby, MCLLC
Ellen Rosenman, English
Carmen Martinez Novo, Anthropology
Veronica Miranda, Anthropology
Monica Blackmun Visona, School of Art and Visual Studies
Ruth Bryan, UK Special Collections Research Center
Nels Jeff Rogers, MCLLC
Ioana Larco, MCLLC
Karen Rignall, Community Leadership and Development
Andy Doolen, English
Abigail Love, Educational, School and Counseling Psychology
Whitney Black, Educational, School and Counseling Psychology
Chester Grundy, Medicine
Katherine Cascio, Educational, School and Counseling Psychology
Minnah Farook, Educational, School and Counseling Psychology
Kathleen Ratajczak, Sociology Shambra Mulder, EDP
Alicia Fedewa, Educational, School and Counseling Psychology
Robert Luis Abreu, Educational, School and Counseling Psychology
Julie Human, MCLLC
Carlos Mahaffey, Behavioral Science
Ashley Ruderman, Gender and Women’s Studies
Olivia Spradlin, Anthropology
Steven Alvarez, Writing Rhetoric and Digital Studies
Nancy Jones, Theatre and Dance
Blanka Angyal, EDP
Tiera Mason, Residence Life
Dani Rosenkrantz, EDP
Katie Waddell, English
Arturo Sandoval, School of Art and Visual Studies
DeShana Collett, Clinical Sciences
Doreen Maloney, School of Art and Visual Studies
Tina Durbin, Center for English as a Second Language
Johne’ Parker, Mechanical Engineering
Adriana Sisko, Gender and Women’s Studies
Deirdre Mikolajcik, English
Tina Brooks, Law
Katherine Whaley, English
Katherine Harris, Educational, School and Counseling Psychology
Jeff Reese, Educational, School and Counseling Psychology
Maryann Koslowski, Gender and Women’s Studies
Celine Lamb, Anthropology
Kenneth Tyler, Educational, School and Counseling Psychology
Jaime Marie Burton, Special Collections Research Center
Rosalind Harris, CLD
Brett Kirkpatrick, EDP
Carolyn Finney, Geography
Roxanna Jones, UK Libraries
Corrine Williams, Health Behavior
Caroline Gooden, Educational Psychology
Cindy Jong, STEM Education
Diane Loeffler, Social Work
Amanda West, Social Work
Rusty Barrett, Linguistics
Theodore Godlaski, Social Work
Stephanie Ratliff, Social Work
Natalie Pope, Social Work
Kay Hoffman, Social Work
Ashley Rouster, VIP Center
Lindsey Sims, Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation
Benjamin Wilson, English
Heather Worne, Anthropology
Lila Wakeman, Philosophy
Clay Graham, Philosophy
Isabelle Martinez-Muniz, Anthropology
Monika Causholli, Von Allmen School of Accountancy
Shelly Johnson, Philosophy
Drew Van’t Land, Philosophy
Mary Elizabeth Schmid, Anthropology


If you would like to add your name in support of this letter, please sign this form.

View/Download PDF