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Un iversit y of Kent uck y A lu m n i Associat ion


Answering the Call

Winter 2020


Because We Care

UK Moves Forward with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts

ANSWERING THE CALL – BECAUSE WE CARE It’s the question University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto asks of himself – and the campus – each day:

Did we care?


ost often, it’s a question asked and discussed in the context of UK’s response to the coronavirus, a global pandemic impacting millions and disrupting daily life for virtually everyone. But it’s also a question UK President Eli Capilouto asks in the context of what he calls the other pandemic confronting the country — the sting and stain of racism that has infected so much of life in America, too.

In answering that question, the university began the semester announcing a comprehensive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Implementation Plan that includes a 21-member leadership team — with student, faculty and staff representatives of more than 10 colleges and several units — to help guide efforts around a greater sense of diversity, equity and inclusion on the campus.

“What happens in places that seem remote and physically removed are tragically real and relevant for so many of our colleagues and community members,” Capilouto says. “Now, we face twin pandemics in our country — one that impacts bodies, another hearts and minds. As Kentucky’s flagship and land-grant university, we must commit to doing what we can, with all we have, to changing our culture and ensuring our community is a place of belonging and acceptance for everyone, regardless of who they are, what they believe, what they look like or how they identify.”

The idea was to model the implementation plan after the university’s Playbook for Reinvented Operations for the fall semester in response to the coronavirus. That effort, which is ongoing, included the work of more than 500 individuals across the enterprise and included more than 6,000 pieces of feedback from the university community.

And that commitment is summed up in that simple, but so often challenging question.

“We knew we must give voice to our pain. It was time to act, and we know that our work is more fruitful when we collectively commit to anti-racism — together,” Capilouto said.

“Did we care about each other?” Capilouto asked. “Did we care about the Commonwealth whose name we bear and which we were created to serve? Did we care enough to make a difference for today’s students — and for generations who will never know our names or the obstacles we faced?”

Heading the DEI leadership team is George Wright, interim vice president for institutional diversity and senior adviser to the president. A noted African -American scholar and Lexington native, Wright received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UK in history before receiving his doctorate from Duke


With this framework for planning and execution in mind, UK asked the community to submit nominations to take part in its efforts to change its campus culture.

“Did we care enough to make a difference for today’s students— and for generations who will never know our names or the obstacles we faced?” President Eli Capilouto

Photos: UK Marketing and Brand Strategy. Several photos were taken prior to the pandemic.

University. He previously served as president of Prairie View A&M University and was a visiting professor at UK for the 2019-2020 academic year. “Dr. Wright has touched the lives of so many and has had a tremendous impact in the lives of his students during his time in higher education,” Capilouto said. “Through his important scholarly work and charitable contributions to the community, we have a better understanding of slavery and the impacts of the institution as a whole in the United States and around the world. I am confident that, under his leadership, our plan to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus will be productive and sustainable.” Stemming from the leadership team is a workgroup made up of seven people who help facilitate the collective work of this cultural shift. Already, the workgroup has assigned executive sponsors to six major workstreams that revolve around areas such as faculty, staff and student talent; culture, policies and programming; facilities and finances; research; and community outreach. Each workstream oversees the work of project teams that are now digging deeper into specific topics such as training and ensuring a more diverse pipeline for faculty, staff and students.

“I believe issues of race, issues of diversity and issues of inclusion should be talked about when there is no crisis.” — George Wright, interim vice president for institutional diversity and senior adviser to President Capilouto

UK student Lydia Mawi, an International Center Ambassador and International Leadership Student Team member, participates in a “get to know you event” at a picnic hosted by UK’s International Center.

Throughout the process, UK is examining how it can live up to the essence of what a higher education institution is —a collection of people and ideas, neve r in complete agreement with one another, but working toward common goals: education and learning; deeper understanding and meaning; solutions and healing; a recognition that a university is always more when it works together than when it splits apart. “I believe issues of race, issues of diversity and issues of inclusion should be talked about when there is no crisis. We must find a way to talk about them and set ground rules and provide an environment for students, faculty and staff where you are allowed to speak without being condemned,” Wright said. One example of how to create that kind of environment was the recent training approximately 50 senior administrators received as part of creating a foundation of knowledge, awareness, education and training to position the university for long-term success. The training program was led by Candice Hargons, a professor in the UK College of Education and a counseling psychologist with a national reputation in facilitating trainings and workshops in anti-racist work. She has led sessions with TimeWarner, Penguin/Random House and other universities including the University of Georgia and the University of Tennessee. “The core is to move away from discussing racism as if it is a philosophical debate or a compliance exercise and move into practical, critical, anti-racist action,” Hargons said. “We want to provide senior leaders in the university with the selfawareness and skills to lead by example when it comes to anti-racism, so that when we ask the rest of the staff, faculty and students to shift the culture of the university, they know it is supporting the vision the people with the most systemic power have adopted.” Also fundamental to UK’s mission as Kentucky’s university is research. Along with teaching, service and care, it is how the university harnesses the energies, intellect and talent of faculty, staff and students toward helping and healing communities across Kentucky.

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Systemic racism over generations, according to volumes of research, has impacted health and life expectancies of people of color as well as economic and financial standing and educational attainment. Now, as the world faces a global pandemic, as well as a deep racial reckoning, it is critical for UK’s word-class research institution to find answers to the most intractable problems that disproportionately impact people of color. In early August, the university announced a five-year, $10 million commitment to sponsor UK research focused on racial disparities and inequity across broad areas, ranging from health to the historical foundations of systemic racism. The UNITed in racial Equity (UNITE) Research Initiative has been designated one of seven of UK’s Research Priority Areas so that these issues have the most important consideration — now and into the future. The university also recently announced the establishment of the proposed Commonwealth Institute for Black Studies, a multidisciplinary program that will highlight UK’s growing research around race and racism. Specifically, the interdisciplinary institute will establish research clusters across the campus and promote UK’s growing research and scholarship on topics of importance in African history and African-American history, such as slavery and the quest for freedom, racial discrimination and violence, and the long struggle for civil rights. “The new Commonwealth Institute for Black Studies at the University of Kentucky is an epicenter for cutting-edge research on people of African descent worldwide,” said Anastasia Curwood, a history professor and director of the African American and Africana Studies program. Additionally, with the same commitment underscoring the importance of this work, the UK College of Education and the NAACP, the nation’s largest and most preeminent civil rights organization, recently launched a groundbreaking collaboration. This is the first time in the NAACP’s history that it has locked arms with university-based scholars in the education field to help address racial inequities. “This initiative will support the NAACP’s continued advancement toward ensuring all disadvantaged students and students of color have access to excellent teaching, equitable resources and a challenging curriculum,” said NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson. Even as the comprehensive effort around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion points to a tremendous amount of work ahead, UK has for years been making steady, and in many ways remarkable, progress in being a more inclusive and accepting community. For the fourth consecutive year, INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, the oldest and largest diversity publication and website in higher education today, has recognized the University of Kentucky as a 2020 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award recipient and a 2020 Diversity Champion. The HEED Award is national honor that recognizes U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion throughout their campus. Diversity Champions, including institutions ranked in the top tier of HEED Award recipients, exemplify an unyielding commitment to diversity


and inclusion throughout their campus communities, across academic programs and at the highest administrative levels. Jason Brooks, UK executive director for institutional engagement and co-facilitator for the DEI workgroup, said this is only one example of how the university has continued to strengthen its support toward equity and inclusion throughout the years. “Though we have been recognized as a Champion for Diversity, we will continue to cultivate a culture of caring while nurturing a sense of belonging for our faculty, staff and students. We are truly heading in the right direction — moving toward a more equitable and inclusive experience for all within our campus community,” he said. Further, Campus Pride Index, the premier LGBTQ national benchmarking tool for colleges and universities to create safer, more inclusive campus communities, has named UK one of 2020’s “Best of the Best” LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities. These efforts, according to Capilouto, must start at the top with him and his leadership team. “The minds and voices of UK’s leadership team must better represent our strategic imperatives. They also must better reflect our increasingly diverse world — not as symbols of our intent, but as partners who drive our progress.” Capilouto recently announced a reorganization of the senior administrative structure to create a more diverse and inclusive senior management team, as well as one focused more squarely on UK’s most important priorities of student success, engagement and service, and more accountability and transparency. Within the reorganization, the Office of Institutional Diversity’s budget of $3.1 million increased to $19.3 million with some programs being relocated and others starting anew. These include initiatives such as the Parker Scholarship Program— which many students of color and first-generation students apply for and receive—the Faculty Diversity Fund and the Office of Community Engagement. Capilouto created four new positions: vice president for student success, filled by Kirsten Turner, formerly associate provost for academic and student affairs; vice president for land-grant engagement, filled by Nancy Cox, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment; chief accountability officer and audit executive, filled by Joe Reed, formerly the

university’s chief auditor; and senior adviser to the president, filled by George Wright, in addition to his role as interim vice president for institutional diversity. Importantly, Wright’s role will be permanent, so that he can continue to provide Capilouto guidance and expertise as a distinguished leader in UK’s efforts to make campus a truly equitable place to learn, grow and heal. UK also announced this fall that it is more diverse than at any time in its more than 155-year history, with 7 percent more Black students enrolled than last year, according to preliminary figures. UK, in fact, is responsible for all of the total statewide growth in bachelor’s degrees awarded over the past five years for Black or African-American students when compared to the other Kentucky schools combined. “The numbers show our promise and potential for service,” Capilouto said. “But we are not satisfied. We must continue to grow and position UK to thrive as we emerge from this crisis — stronger, more diverse and accepting and poised to provide the education our Commonwealth needs from us as the University of, for and with Kentucky.” As UK continues to face some of its most challenging circumstances ever, the community can find hope, not only in the way faculty, staff and students have come together to support one another, but more tangibly in words etched into the entrance of the Bill Gatton Student Center, in UK Professor Frank X Walker’s “Seedtime in the Commonwealth,” a poem crafted for the university’s 150th anniversary. “There is no vaccination against ignorance, but there is us. There is this university. And we still have heavy doors to open, unmet obligations to the land and its people. There are still leadership opportunities to advance the Commonwealth, this nation, and our world towards fulfilling its potential, towards meeting its lofty promises.” Then, and now, Capilouto believes, the poem reminds everyone at the university about both its promise and potential, but also UK’s responsibility to change lives and transform communities. In other words, Walker says, it is a call — in all things and in all ways — to show that we cared.

“We must continue to grow and position UK to thrive as we emerge from this crisis — stronger, more diverse and accepting and poised to provide the education our Commonwealth needs from us as the University of, for and with Kentucky.” President Eli Capilouto

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Profile for University of Kentucky

Learn More About our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts in this 6-Page Spread  

Learn More About our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts in this 6-Page Spread

Learn More About our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts in this 6-Page Spread  

Learn More About our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts in this 6-Page Spread