University Apologizes for President’s Offensive Costume Party

The University of Louisville issued an apology following university President James Ramsey's offensive Hispanic Halloween costumes.

The University of Louisville has offered an apology after its president hosted what has been deemed as a very offensive costume party last Wednesday.

President James Ramsey and members of his staff wore sombreros, colorful ponchos and fake black mustaches and held maracas as part of a “Mexican bandit” costume.

Hispanic students, who comprise 3.42 percent of the university’s population, were less than impressed by the staff’s costume choice. And according to one student, it goes farther than only offending Mexicans.

“I was appalled,” said Leonardo Salinas, a freshman at the university. “It’s not just offensive to Mexicans; it’s offensive to the immigrant community as a whole.”

According to the university’s website, 4.89 percent of students are classified as “Non-Resident Alien[s].”

Olivia Krauth wrote an op-ed for the Louisville Cardinal school newspaper following the incident. According to Krauth, the ramifications of President Ramsey’s actions are even more significant because he should be held at an even higher standard than his students.

“Never mind that if a fraternity threw a party with a Mexican theme and pictures of them in these outfits got out, they would be in huge trouble just like countless other Greek organizations across the country in the past few years,” she wrote. “As the president of a university, I would expect more. … 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.”

Like Krauth, Salinas also wondered how such costumes were deemed appropriate to begin with. “Someone thought, ‘Oh, this is a good idea,’” he said. “How did it not click in anybody’s mind that it was a very bad idea?”

It only seemed to click that the costumes were, at the least, not the smartest choice for attire after a picture of the party was published in an online photo gallery. Had the picture not made it online, the university’s Hispanic community may never have seen an apology.

Kathleen Smith, Chief of Staff to President Ramsey, issued an apology on behalf of the university.

“We made a mistake and are very sorry. We have met with Sarah Nuñez, UofL’s Director of the Office of Hispanic and Latino Initiatives, and shared with her our deep regret for the hurt this experience has caused,” Smith’s statement said.

The fact that the university has an Office of Hispanic and Latino Initiatives yet such an incident still occurred shows that simply having someone in a position to promote diversity and inclusion is not enough without strong action behind the initiative.

Nuñez hopes the community will learn from the incident. “We’re human beings, we’re not costumes,” she said.

According to Smith, the university will “commit to a series of campus conversations with students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members to further focus on diversity and racial equality issues,” expressing that “we have much more to learn about our community.”

“Our office will institute immediate training on diversity and racial equality issues,” the statement concluded.

Hopefully the training will be a requirement for President Ramsey, who did not issue an apology of his own until a day after the university made its statement — and after a group of students protested outside the president’s office.

Ramsey said he hopes the incident “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.”

If Ramsey considers his offensive costume party the results of “hard work” dedicated to diversity and inclusion, the university — or, at the very least, Ramsey and his staff — has a long way to go.

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21 comments


  • Sharron Hunter-Rainey

    While I am not a diversity and inclusion expert, I have read enough and studied enough in the area to know these costumes are offensive to an audience much broader than students enrolled at the University of Louisville. I’m not a student, anywhere, but I am personally offended by the lack of sensitivity displayed in this photograph. It saddens me to think that not one of the NINETEEN people pictured had the courage to choose NOT to be captured in this stereotypical photo opportunity. If this is higher education, how are workers dressing in places that are much more homogenous and presumably less educated than the president’s staff? I suppose next Halloween the president’s staff will be pictured in black face.

    • This is an example of what a lack of diversity and/or diversity management can do to an organization.

      Kentucky is far whiter than the United States (85% versus 64%). Latino population percentage is less than half of the national average. The people in the state earn far less then the national average (~$43,000 versus $53,000). The white people dominate the rural areas, overall the state is growing at one half the rate of the rest of the country. Kentucky has a much lower labor participation rate then the US average.

      In other words, Kentucky is dying of old age.

      The University of Louisville should be a beacon of hope and the economic engine for the state. I can’t imagine what the president was thinking when he hosted this party; I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t issue his own apology, but I would certainly think twice about sending my children to a school this poorly led “university”.

      Here is their pathetic report card: https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/school/?157289-University-of-Louisville

      Be sure you read this article from last week -read the comments as well and think about them as you guide the young people in your life to their choice of college – and if you’re recruiting at a school that has these kinds of demographics, please think again: http://www.diversityinc.com/news/racist-cartoon-disgraces-state-university-in-new-york/

      • It goes far beyond a lack of diversity and/or lack of diversity management. It almost has to be willful ignorance or a complete disregard for appropriate behavior. Presumably the president and his staff are well-educated professionals who maintain a current working knowledge of what’s happening in colleges across the country. Not one of them has apparently ever seen a story about a fraternity or sorority getting into trouble for something of this ilk. It’s simply astonishing.

        • I’ve seen more mediocre leadership and toothless chief diversity officers in acedemia than corporate America – far more. In general, university presidents don’t get it because too much money comes in from government or endowments – they don’t have to compete for that. Universities use SAT scores as a proxy for quality. The College Board recently moved to try increase the quality of their test and thereby lessen the correlation of household income to results – not because the universities demanded it – the less competitive universities stopped requiring the tests, so The College Board was worried about its own survival.

          Competition drives diversity management. Too many mediocre universities exist because they can.

          This university should be turned on its head and the scoundrels run out of town. The taxpayers should demand better.

    • Charity Dell

      Higher education can be just as IGNORANT as the rest of the general population! Much of academia is concerned with keeping their ivory towers intact, so knowing about other cultures and having sensitivity to stereotyping is often “the unknown country” to these folks.
      And many academicians of color are JUST as guilty and JUST as ignorant as the general public. If you don’t agree with some of their ethnocentric theories, or even if you simply
      relate NEW FINDINGS in ethnography, anthropology or even just plain old history, FOLKS GET REALLY “UPSOT” and insult you any way they can.

  • Greg Thrasher

    The scope of contempt for anything that is not White is present in every space and venue in America from public venues to private enclaves. College venues are not spare from this reality in fact the level of racial toxicity is more calibrated and measured in these locales.

    People of color are often afterthoughts or checklist items. In fact obligatory apologies are often part of the calculation.

    America is a toxic place there is no escape from racism it is cultural pathological aspect of the majority aka White America . People of color have always understood this reality . We continue to solider on because we can and our cultural and genius will not be defeated

    Yes it hurts, stings, wounds and insults but retreat and surrender is not a part of our cultural dna . We will carry on with our agenda of life , liberty and the pursuit of happiness regardless….

    Greg Thrasher
    Director
    Plane Ideas
    Alternative Think Tank
    DC

    • Your first sentence succinctly states the the dominant characteristic of American culture since the founding of the country. Nonwhites have been branded as perjoratively different and “less than” from the beginning. This country is decidedly Eurocentric and sees little value in other ethnicities.

      This type of a lack of sensitivity is not limited to whites. There appears to be at least one black participating in this disgraceful exhibition as well. These perceptions and views are so ingrained in this country that even those victimized by it often participate in it.

      Having these types of things occur at institutions of higher learning is even more disturbing. What can we expect from the less informed.

      • That’s it in a nutshell–THE LESS INFORMED! When I was a public reference librarian back in the early 2000’s, I started studying Spanish so that I could help all the Latino patrons who were coming into our library. (At that time, we had no one on staff with adequate knowledge of Spanish who could interpret or translate.) Guess what happened–the African-American head of circulation somehow got it into her
        ignorant skull that I was some kind of “traitor” to Black people because I, as an African-American, had the NERVE to study and use Spanish on a daily basis. She admitted to me one day that “I don’t like Hispanics!” When I asked her WHY, had any of them ever done anything to her, her reply was NO, “they” hadn’t done anything to her but she just RESENTED THEM SPEAKING SPANISH and she resented it when they asked:”Do you speak Spanish?” She told me that she always
        replied to them “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” Then she’d have to send the now puzzled patron over to reference, where I would attempt to help them. I often informed her that: 1. Millions of black people speak Spanish in Latin America; 2. Spanish was spoken in the United States hundreds of years before English; 3. The SECOND question Latino patrons asked us was always: “Do you have classes for learning English?” I let her know we had a waiting list of over 700 people who requested instruction (in our literacy program downstairs) to learn English! WE DID NOT HAVE ENOUGH TUTORS FOR ALL WHO WERE DESPERATE TO LEARN ENGLISH. She and I clashed ALL the time on immigration topics, the use of Spanish, etc. I never stopped reminding her that Americans do the same thing
        when they travel overseas, speaking English and finding English-speaking enclaves in which to live and do business/commerce in English–at that Spanish was simply the second language of the United States! So yes, willful IGNORANCE tends to make one UNINFORMED, especially at university levels!

    • Charity Dell

      The sad thing is, that people of color ALSO make other people of color “afterthoughts”, if they even think of them or include them at all! And if you attempt to organize any kind of
      intercultural meeting or grassroots activism among the “afterthought” folks, you REALLY have to fight against the “we’re-the-most-oppressed-group-on-the-planet-and-we-ain’t-giving-up-our-unique-oppression-rights-to-work-with-other-disenfranchised-folks” mentality. And
      that mentality comes in all flavors, languages and cultures! IGNORANCE IS AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY STATE OF EXISTENCE. But just like the diseases of monolingualism and ethnocentrism, IGNORANCE CAN BE CURED!!

      • Charity, it is so true. In the 60’s I learned how much this exclusiveness and afterthought hurt us. But where we formed coalitions on common issues, we were far more successful, realizing that we were foolishly fighting for the same, small slice of pie against each other, when we were leaving a disproportionate share for the white male controling culture. We’ve got to realize and educate ourselves so that we’ll know that advances for one group, advances the rest of us along with them.

    • I’m not speechless. While I am not a diversity and inclusion expert, I have worked in large corporations’ factories enough and studied enough in the area to know these kind of incidents are heavily scrutinized and publicized when a white male can be blamed, otherwise, not so much.

      Ever hear anything about Obama’s White House Secret Service pushing a group of children suffering from cancer and their supporters out of Lafayette Square on the evening of September 19th? The Secret Service’s Joseph Clancy told Childhood Cancer that about 700 parents and children were ordered out of the park in front of the White House for at least two hours for security reasons. Many of the parents believe they were ousted so Obama could conveniently and hyper-safely use a nearby White House exit on his way to a Congressional Black Caucus event. The move disrupted their previously-permitted plans for a gold candlelight vigil to raise awareness and research funding for childhood cancer, held in reaction to the administration’s refusal to display the White House bathed in golden light supporting Childhood Cancer’s fight after the Obamas celebrated the Supreme Court’s gay marriage judicial fiat with rainbow lighting.

      Heard of that?

      Didn’t think so.

      • I suppose we can tack this on to tales of drunkenness, scandal and prostitutes. The Secret Service should be disbanded.

        I’m quite certain that decision was not approved by the president.

        • And if George Bush was the president whose Secret Service ran kids with cancer out of a permitted candlelight rally, do you think you might have heard about it from MSNBC, CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, Yahoo, and DiversityInc?

          Probably. But the above-mentioned are all Barack waterboys, carrying it for him.

          • No, it’s a foolish story regardless of president. Despite W’s painfully obvious mediocrity, nobody would believe he’d push cancer kids out of the park. Everybody would assume it’s the addled leadership of the Secret Service that made such a dopey decision.

  • Greg Thrasher

    There is of course a Black woman smiling from ear to ear. We have as Black folks been as backward and parties to this ignorance ..

    Such is the nature of bigotry it captures and contaminates any and all..

    Shameful this Black woman diminishes my activism !!

  • This is my alma mater and I am ashamed. Cultural tone deaf seems to be a running theme in Higher Education. When the Diversity Officer is not at the table or consulted these after the fact, sorry we got caught apologies are offered. Everyone is required to get “training” but “everyone” did not offend. Fraternities are censured and suspended will the President’s Office receive the same fate? Of course not.

  • Okay, so the Director of the Office of Hispanic and Latino Initiatives wasn’t invited, let alone consulted about this party and theme and costumes? Okay, those of you in positions of authority, use the in-house consutants and experts that you have. Don’t avoid them. They are generally well-trained and have heard it all, so will advise you appropriately and professionally. If you are hesitant to discuss an idea in their area of expertise with them, then it’s probably not a good idea.

    • You don’t think that lamebrain president is listening to anyone but the voice in his own head, do you? I’ve known several university presidents who are just lucky they haven’t been tripped up while walking obliviously with their pants around their own ankles and their right thumb in their mouth.

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