UK employees prepare for possible rally

UK Police Chief Joe Monroe

UK Police Chief Joe Monroe

Bailey Vandiver

Several weeks ago, a white nationalist rally on the University of Virginia’s campus began a weekend of violence that dominated national news.

Now the threat of a similar rally hangs over UK’s campus, since Lexington Mayor Jim Gray announced plans to relocate Confederate statues.

UK employees across many departments have prepared for the moment if and when a rally takes place on UK’s campus.

Several UK employees spoke about campus safety measures in light of the recent rhetoric: Associate Vice President for Student Engagement Victor Hazard of the Office of the Vice President for Institutional Diversity; Counseling Center Director Dr. Mary Chandler Bolin; UK Police Chief Joe Monroe; and Interim Dean of Students Nicholas Kehrwald.

Preparing to Keep Campus Safe

All expressed their commitment to keep any event peaceful and safe.

Monroe said his department’s role would be maintaining safety and security on campus. He urged students to voice their opinions respectfully without engaging in antagonism from people with opposing views.

The UK Counseling Center has a proactive and a responsive role, Bolin said.

“As we hear that there may be concerns about protests or other actions that might come to Lexington, certainly continuing what we already do, which is to reach out to students, particularly students who may be minoritized or marginalized,” Bolin said. “That’s ongoing.”

Bolin said that preparation for this sort of event did not start just weeks ago. Resources and plans were in place long before the Charlottesville rallies.

Bolin and Kehrwald both cited the Community of Concern and Bias Incident Support Services as resources for students.

Kehrwald said his department works for everyone to understand “the expectations if something like this were to happen,” as well as how to engage in appropriate ways.

Listening to Students

Hazard said he has been working with the Martin Luther King Center and its director Kahlil Baker to gauge students’ reaction and concerns, as well as to prepare a possible “alternative event” if or when protests arrive.

“(We’re) listening to what the student voice is, so we’re shaping things that would be of interest to them in the context of safety,” Hazard said.

“I’ve got two of these ears for a reason,” Hazard said about listening to students’ views.

Bolin said she is encouraged because these sorts of conversations about creating an inclusive community at UK are healthy and productive at any time, not just when potential conflict like this arises.

“We’ve been trying to do a lot of outreach with student leaders,” Kehrwald said.

He said his department wants to make sure student leaders and other students they work with are informed about campus resources.

Protecting Free Speech

The possibility of a rally here naturally creates a free speech discussion, including where free speech ceases to be protected.

“I have a right to take my impressions, my feelings, my values, my protests to the community as well if I’m a student, as long as you’re abiding by the policies,” Hazard said.

Students who participate in a rally of any kind will be held to the Student Code of Conduct as well as local and state policies and laws.

Students participating in a rally proclaiming any views and beliefs will receive the same protections and resources, as long as they abide by all rules.

Kehrwald said he does not want any UK students to infringe on others’ right to free speech, which could result in their arrest or discipline on campus.

“We typically aren’t going to shut down a lot of speech from a content perspective,” Kehrwald said.

But speech can become unlawful, Kehrwald said, which would then be handled by UKPD.

Creating a Community

UK is a community of thousands of students, faculty and employees, all with unique backgrounds and belief systems.

“My approach tends to be really looking at community. How as people who live and work and play as a community, how do we do that in a way that’s healthy for everybody?” Bolin said. “And I think people can have profound differences of opinion about their values, about their beliefs, and it does not have to be demeaning to others.”

People come to college to become more educated, Hazard said.

“We can learn in the classroom and learn outside the classroom,” Hazard said.

“When these social issues are presented to us, it causes me to reflect on what I do believe.” He said he learns more when counterpoints are presented to him.

“At the heart of engagement is conversation,” Hazard said, “and hopefully that’s respectful conversation.”

“The university has a role in helping engage in these conversations,” Kehrwald said.

If a rally does occur in Lexington or on campus, students can reach out to any of these organizations as well as many other resources available on campus.