Phelps apologizes for anti-Muslim e-mail

By Juliann Vachon and Katie Saltz

Student Government President Nick Phelps opened yesterday’s SG meeting with a public apology, saying he never intended to offend students with an e-mail he forwarded that described Barack Obama as a Muslim and derided the religion.

“I was wrong in sending out and forwarding the e-mail,” Phelps said during the full SG Senate meeting last night. “And I was wrong to not realize the implications of my actions.”

About 30 non-SG students attended the meeting. Many students who spoke called for action by the Senate to either impeach or censure Phelps. German senior Rob Colston said he met with Phelps earlier in the day and felt Phelps was not genuine in his apology. Colston asked the Senate to take some sort of action.

“Removal might be a little extreme, but a censure is my recommendation,” Colston said. “(Senators) are bound in duty to uphold accountability so this road is not taken again.”

In the apology, Phelps said he would be working to improve diversity at UK. Lauren Biggs, a classics and history senior, said Phelps didn’t seem to understand the issue of diversity on campus.

“It really bothers me that in this apology he spoke of two sides to the issue,” Biggs said. “In campus diversity there is only one side. I feel (senators) as a body should consider removing him from office.”

SG Attorney General Beau Baustien said the concerns about diversity on campus were being turned into a personal attack on Phelps’ character.

“Punishments are handled in context, and we’d like to punish Nick for an institution of racism that is, by no fault of his own, here (on campus),” Baustien said. “I feel like everything tonight has been an attack on his character.”

Senators should take Phelps’ situation as a lesson in judgment, said Sen. Justin Stewart.

“We need to remember as student leaders that it is important that we all be cognizant of our actions,” Stewart said. “We need to slow down and think twice before we do things.”

UK College Democrats met with Phelps  yesterday afternoon and delivered a letter asking for his resignation from SG.

The letter stated that Phelps described the e-mail as private, satirical correspondence but did not include a disclaimer or explanation so recipients would understand his reason for sending it.

“We are willing to concede the fact that this was your mistake,” the letter states. “However, we believe that mistakes bear with them consequences. In our majority opinion, we feel that this mistake merits your resignation or impeachment.”

Robert Kahne, president of UK College Democrats, said Phelps was receptive to the organization and what members had to say, but Phelps told the group he would not resign from his position.

“I had hopes he would accept the points we made and step down on his own volition, but he said he would not step down,” Kahne said. “Really this isn’t about getting Nick Phelps’ head. We’re trying to make progress with this problem UK is battling.”

At the SG meeting, Kahne called for Phelps to create an official document detailing exactly what would be done to resolve the situation.

D.J. Lacy, an agricultural communications sophomore, said the problems with diversity on campus that existed before were only made worse by this e-mail.

“The true problem here lies with simple ignorance,” Lacy said. “It’s quite disrespectful. That e-mail represents institutionalized racism, and I’m hurt.”

Phelps said that last night was the best Senate meeting he has ever been to because of the willingness of students to voice their opinions on the issue.

“I appreciate the honest feedback,” Phelps said. “I will sleep wonderful tonight knowing something I’ve done sparked this reaction and a positive force from this campus.”

Yahya Ahmed, president of UK’s Muslim Student Association, said he met with “a very apologetic” Phelps yesterday before the SG meeting. The MSA is also looking at the situation as an opportunity for education and awareness of the ignorance at UK.

“A lot of people I talked with were expecting Muslims to be angry,” Ahmed said. “But most Muslims take these things in stride and look for ways to grow from the situation.”

Pat Terrell, vice president of Student Affairs, said one student upset by Phelps’ distribution of the e-mail is one too many.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Terrell said Phelps’ forwarded e-mail “perpetuated offensive stereotypes regarding race, religion and ethnicity that have no place in civil discourse or on a university campus where values of tolerance and mutual respect should be cherished.”

Terrell said she and Dean of Students Victor Hazard are holding a closed meeting tonight with students who are concerned with the e-mail. The students called the meeting, and Terrell said she would meet with anyone else who wanted to talk with her.

While Student Affairs has not set up anything specifically to address the situation, the office will take cues from the students and follow their lead, Terrell said.

“We want (students) to feel free to speak freely,” she said. “If they have good ideas, you’ll be hearing about them.”