UK gives Memorial Hall appropriate context

Aspen Gage

As a predominantly white institution, racial issues seem to be a perpetual battle for UK. One such struggle involved the now infamous mural inside of Memorial Hall. The mural, which depicts images of black slaves working in fields, offended many people on campus and in the Lexington community.

The UK Black Graduate and Professional Students Association brought to light the feelings of discomfort from students to President Capilouto, which then evolved into a discussion about the negative representation of black students on campus. Just last month the university came to a decision: the mural will now be uncovered and have a plaque placed beside it that explains its history.

In President Capilouto’s online blog, he wrote an entry explaining the decision to uncover the mural. In it, he said that the board formed a public art committee to collect pieces of art that will frame the mural and offer a ‘distinctly Kentucky voice.’ UK will also work to restore the mural along with Memorial Hall renovations over the next years.

“Like all conversations, our steps here are a beginning, not an end. They are not perfect, nor are they final or complete,” Capilouto said in the blog post. “They will stimulate more conversation; raise more questions; foster more debate.”

This statement could not be any truer. UK’s decision to listen to its students while making this choice is important and sets precedent for students to raise their voices. Students now see the real power of gathering together and fighting something that is harmful or misrepresentative. This kind of relationship between students and administration is important to provide a safe place for people with differences to learn.

So far as representation goes, the mural situation overshadowed a lot of the good that has gone on within the halls of newer buildings on campus. The Gatton College of Business and Economics features a large work of art by graduate student Tianlan Deng. The piece, which covers the walls in Gatton’s atrium, is representative of the US economic interrelation with China, Tianlan told UKNow. The College of Fine Arts and School of Art and Visual Studies both feature art from their students of all races and creed. UK isn’t going out of its way to avoid being diverse.

Instead of focusing on the negatives of one mural that the university is not willing to remove from campus, students should encourage each other and the university to collect works of art that are representative of this campus.

However, UK and President Capilouto have to stay aware of the negative history this state and campus contain and how — even 100 or 50 years later — the violence against people of color is still painful. There needs to be a communal effort to improve diversity and sensitivity on this campus. Conversations such as the one surrounding the controversial mural are a good start.

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