Students protest depiction of slave auction

More than 100 students gathered outside the Grehan Journalism Building on Friday afternoon to protest a Kernel editorial cartoon that likened UK’s Greek system to a slave auction.

The cartoon, which ran on Friday and was drawn by staff cartoonist Brad Fletcher, depicts a black man in chains on an auction block being bid on by three fraternities, “Aryan Omega,” “Alpha Caucasian” and “Kappa Kappa Kappa.” The caption reads, “UK Greeks lead the way on integration with this year’s new bids.”

“I didn’t care about the ‘purpose’ — I cared about this man in chains, I cared about the KKK,” said broadcast journalism senior Chaka Buraimoh. “I felt disrespected as a black woman.”

“More than disrespected, I felt hurt,” she said.

Editor in Chief Keith Smiley, who has written an apology that appears on the front page of today’s Kernel, said editors failed to discuss the cartoon before it was published.

“I support my staff totally, and we make mistakes, but this should not have gone to print,” Smiley said. “Sometimes it’s necessary to offend to get your point across. This wasn’t one of those cases. I think in this case any message was lost because of the cartoon’s offensiveness.”

Fletcher apologized in a column that appears in today’s Kernel.

“It was never my intent to garner this reaction or to convey the message that I have,” he said in the column.

“In hindsight, it seems obvious to me why the cartoon has upset so many people,” he said. “The images are harsh, dramatic and unnecessary.”

Outside the Grehan building on Friday, students held up copies of the Kernel with the cartoon circled in marker with phrases like “Why this?” written beside it. Students passed out copies of the paper to passers-by.

Reporters from the Lexington Herald-Leader and local television stations interviewed protesters. The TV stations recorded video of the cartoon, and the Herald-Leader requested permission to reprint it. The Kernel declined, saying it didn’t want to allow the republishing of a cartoon that it had decided was inappropriate to publish initially.

A group of about 10 to 15 students went to the Kernel office to speak with Smiley and requested that the Kernel print a front-page apology.

Smiley told them that the cartoon should not have run and said the Kernel would examine its editing process.

“Obviously, it’s not rigorous enough right now,” Smiley said in an interview later.

“We’re going to get the whole staff involved in a discussion over the weekend, and in the coming weeks and months,” he said.

“There’s no one person at fault here,” Smiley said, adding that he wants the staff to discuss diversity and to encourage dialogue with other campus groups.

After the meeting with Smiley, agricultural economics sophomore Josh Watkins addressed the crowd outside.

“We will not let this situation go away, because action without longevity is not action,” Watkins said. “We expect not only an apology and to admit that you were wrong, but we want to shed light on the issue of what has been created by this. We want people to know certain things, want people to think before they talk or before they publish.”

After the protest at the Grehan building, students, faculty and staff spoke in an open forum in the Free Speech Area outside the Student Center.

“Not being taken seriously (in the Kernel office) really hurt me most of all,” said Phi Beta Sigma President Ramon Juanso in the Free Speech Area. “I’m let down by this university, and I’m let down by the Kernel.”

At their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, UK’s Panhellenic Council and Interfraternity Council will address the cartoon, said Panhellenic Council President Brooke Perrin. After the meeting, Perrin and IFC President Matt Swafford will write a letter that the Kernel will receive Monday or Tuesday.

Perrin declined to comment before the council has met and the letter has been written.

James Harris, one of the students who organized Friday’s protest, said yesterday that opposition to the cartoon has not died down over the weekend.

“A lot of people didn’t actually see the paper (on Friday),” Harris said. “As more and more people see the paper, the anger has grown.”

Harris said between 10 and 15 people, including about five UK employees, met over the weekend and planned a protest for today.

The protest, which will take place from noon to 1 p.m. in the Free Speech Area, will have a letter-signing area, photocopies of the cartoon and a live re-enactment of what the cartoon depicted.

“It was brainstorming — how can we make this more real?” Harris said.

Harris said there will also be a weeklong campaign to write letters to the Kernel, and that plans for further action would be known as the week progresses.

“It’s like an open sore, and every time you see it, it’s like adding salt to the wound,” he said.

Staff writer Blair Thomas contributed to this story.