(November 1, 2015) — Fresh off the heels of a sex scandal involving the men’s basketball program, the University of Louisville is making headlines again over a photo of the university president and his staff wearing colorful ponchos, sombreros and fake facial hair at a Halloween-themed staff party.
The backlash prompted President James R. Ramsey to apologize for the photo, which drew criticism from the school community and beyond for turning cultural stereotypes into costumes.
“I want to personally apologize for the recent incident and any pain that it may have caused our students, faculty, staff and the community. We did not intend to cause harm or to be insensitive,” Ramsey said in a statement to the campus community. “I hope this doesn’t detract from the hard work we — the entire UofL community — have done and continue to do in building an inclusive, supportive, welcoming campus for all our university family.”
The photo was published online Wednesday by The Courier-Journal in a photo gallery for a story about a university-owned mansion used for school events.
The photo’s setting at a mansion paid for by student and state funds made it even more insulting, Olivia Krauth, editor of the Louisville Cardinal school newspaper, said in an op-ed.
“The president of a school that prides itself in diversity opted to dress himself and his staff as a culture for Halloween. Not just a culture, but a minority that is frequently faced with prejudice. Not just a culture, but a completely wrongfully depicted culture according to people who are actually in that culture.”
She also highlighted the timing of the controversy — on the heels of a sex scandal involving the men’s basketball program.
“As the president of a university, I would expect more. As the president of a university currently in the middle of a scandal in the national news, I would expect even more than that. I would expect discretion. I would expect thought and research into whether or not this is considered offensive. Frankly, I would expect more creativity in costume selection. But I guess my expectations are too high for Ramsey,” she said.
“Don’t dress like a culture. They aren’t costumes, they’re people.”
The president’s chief of staff said they met with the school’s director of the Office of Hispanic and Latino Initiatives to apologize for incident.
“This event shows we have much more to learn about our community,” Kathleen Smith said in a statement addressed to the school’s “Hispanic and Latino faculty, staff and students.”
“We commit to a series of campus conversations with students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members to further focus on diversity and racial equality issues underpinning the pluralistic society we all support. This event shows we have much more to learn about our community.”