Of Effigies and Insults at UK

I try to keep politics off of this blog. Mostly because I consider myself a moderate and can fall to either side depending on what the issue is, which tends to confuse, unnerve, and annoy people. But this is different. At the University of Kentucky, an effigy of Barack Obama was found hanging in a tree, startling students, staff and faculty on their way to classes and work this morning.

This hits me personally - I worked at UK for years, got my MLS there, and consider Kentucky (where I also did my undergrad work at Centre College) my true home. Given Kentucky's deep and problematic history with race relations, I was always very proud to point out the strides the state, and especially the University made towards the goal of respecting and appreciating diversity. University President Lee Todd sent the following email to the entire campus:

From: President Lee T. Todd, Jr.
Sent: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 12:15 PM
To: (all of campus)
Subject: Campus Incident on October 29, 2008

Unfortunately, this morning an effigy of Senator Barack Obama was discovered hanging in a tree on campus. I am personally offended and deeply embarrassed by this disgusting episode. This is not reasonable political expression; it is just malicious. And it is unacceptable.

On behalf of the University of Kentucky I apologize to Senator Obama and his family. I will personally assure them that this is not who we are as a University or as a state.

As President of the University of Kentucky, I feel outraged and hurt. I am outraged because we work very hard, every day, to build bridges across the divides. Diversity and inclusion are among our most precious core values. Episodes like this serve only to erode our confidence in and respect for one another.

Regardless of your political opinions or the candidates you support, a University such as ours must be a place where spirited discussion can take place, but within the bounds of civility, common sense, and respect for the views and feelings of others. We have insisted - and we will continue to insist - that we as a University and as a state rise above hatred and acts of malice or ignorance. The line separating civil discourse from unacceptable behavior has been crossed, constituting a clear violation of the University's code of ethics, and possibly constituting criminal acts, which would also violate University regulations. Such acts will not be tolerated. Those found responsible will be subject to the full force of university, state, and federal rules and regulations.

There is an on-going investigation into this incident, which includes federal authorities. If you have any information that would assist in this investigation you have a responsibility to contact the UK Police Department (257-1616).

I am utterly impressed by his unconditionally disgusted response, heartbroken that this sort of thing would happen on a university campus where dialogue is meant to be fostered in a creative and intelligent atmosphere, and happy that every single former coworker, staff member, and student who has mentioned this to me is uniformly horrified and hopes that the country won't use this incident to reflect all of the people of the state, or the feelings of everyone at the University.

We can't help what our neighbors, friends, or fellow citizens do, for the most part. But we can control our responses to these things, and I'm proud of my Kentuckians for standing against this sort of childish, hateful, and useless demonstration.

Open note to the perpetrators: if the best statement you can make about a political candidate is based solely on the color of his skin, I feel very sorry for you. If your goal was to foster the sentiment that a black man in office would be too 'dangerous' and create unrest in the country, I tell you this: whomever I *do* vote for, I am not going to not-vote for a candidate out of fear. That's how elections take place in oppressive regimes, and I refuse to bow to such low tactics or allow that to happen to me in my own country. You are likely not ashamed of what you did, but it's enough for me that the rest of us are ashamed to call you one of our own.


Infosciphi said…
Thanks for writing this Colleen. As a native Kentuckian I'm happy that you stood up for us and pointed out that this type of unacceptable behavior has become much more the exception than the rule. I'd hazard a guess that some redneck freshmen took a stab at making a statement. Let's hope they get caught and have to talk to the feds.


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