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.