Responding to Herald-Leader Op-Ed, “Black UK students should get active on campus”


Journalism senior Lee Mengistu was awarded the prestigious Tom Peterson Memorial Scholarship.

Lee Mengistu

I read Chanel Friday’s opinion piece on the Lexington Herald-Leader website, “Black UK students should get active on campus,” and to be honest, I’m confused. When did I or any of this school’s other approximately 2,190 African-American students ask to be spoken for?

While I hope the title of the piece and subsequent offensive remarks were simply the work of a misguided editor, I found a glaring error in need of correction: the assumption that involved black UK students are rare.

Like Ms. Friday, I was also raised in predominantly white areas. Unlike Ms. Friday, I have experienced outright discrimination or rejection based on the color of my skin at UK. I have also felt alienated as the only black face in a classroom, presumed to be incompetent or expected to speak for my entire race. I have usually said nothing, out of simple irritation or fear of confrontation.

And I will be the first to admit that my privileged background has affected my success in college. For some black students, UK has not been so welcoming, making the purpose of minority retention resources like CARES all the more evident.

I could also recite my record of involvement on campus. For example, I am fortunate to hold a director position with Student Activities Board, one of the largest student programming boards in the country, and to be joined by six other black directors (out of thirteen).

But that opportunity doesn’t shield me or my colleagues from racial discrimination or micro-aggressions on campus, like the racist Yik Yak comments I see regularly. Neither will our degrees once we enter the real world.

If I interpreted the essay correctly, Ms. Friday is arguing that based on a single event last month (Dance Blue), African-American UK students are not involved in campus activities. And to that I call bull.

UK has over five hundred student organizations. Five hundred opportunities for black students to make their mark on campus. And they do, whether in minority-oriented professional organizations like MANNRS or NABA, or elsewhere, in groups started by black students like the Elite List, Underground Perspective or Ms. Friday’s own org, REAL. In my three years at UK, I am constantly reminded of — and intimidated by — the positive impact black students are making here.

I truly believe that Ms. Friday is not representing things correctly. To the contrary, I would say that many black UK students are not only involved, but lead on our campus.

Like the infamous mural depicting black people building the foundation for others, the labor of black students is uncredited or seemingly invisible to those outside of it.

If the problem that Ms. Friday is describing is the under-representation of black students at integrated events, then her target should have been organizations themselves for their lack of marketing and recruitment efforts to black and other minority groups. Don’t blame the students who aren’t even sure if they’re invited.

Do I agree with Ms. Friday’s comment that the “university can only do so much” to dispel ignorance in their students? Yes. But do I believe the responsibility should be on 7 percent of the student body? Not at all.

Lee Mengistu is a journalism junior.

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