Photo by Scott Utterback / Courtesy of The Courier-Journal
Photo by Scott Utterback / Courtesy of The Courier-Journal

The chief of staff for University of Louisville President James Ramsey issued an apology on Thursday for a Halloween party in which Ramsey and his staff dressed as stereotypes of Mexicans with sombreros, ponchos and mustaches. The Courier-Journal ran a photograph of the attendees in costume, stirring outrage on social media.

In a letter addressed to “Hispanic/Latino Faculty, Staff and Students at the University of Louisville,” chief of staff Kathleen Smith apologized for the costumes at the party, though Ramsey himself has not yet issued an apology of his own.

“As Chief of Staff to the President, I write to express a sincere apology for the choice of Halloween costumes at our staff luncheon,” wrote Smith. “We made a mistake and are very sorry.”

Smith continued:

“We have met with Sarah Nuñez, UofL’s Director of the Office of Hispanic and Latino Initiatives, and shared with her our deep regret for the hurt this experience has caused. We commit to a series of campus conversations with students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members to further focus on diversity and racial equality issues underpinning the pluralistic society we all support. This event shows we have much more to learn about our community. We pledge to continue to work together to promote an environment that values all people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, country of origin, immigration status, sexual orientation or gender identity. Our office will institute immediate training on diversity and racial equality issues.”

In recent years, fraternities and sororities across the country have faced disciplinary actions from college administrators for Halloween parties where students dressed as offensive cultural stereotypes, though this is the first known incident in which a university’s president took part in such an event.

Olivia Krauth, editor of the university’s independent newspaper The Louisville Cardinal, blasted Ramsey in an editorial before Smith’s apology, writing “There’s a word for this. It’s called racism.”

Asked if Ramsey himself was also going to issue an apology, U of L spokesman John Karman said he did not know, as “Dr. Ramsey is traveling with the football team today for tomorrow night’s game at Wake Forest. He was unavailable for comment today, and we needed to get a statement out quickly. Kathleen Smith is head of the department and Dr. Ramsey’s chief of staff, so the statement is from her.”

***** UPDATE 10/30, 1:06 p.m. *****

Ramsey just sent out the following to students and staff, apologizing to anyone who was offended and saying that the costumes of him and his staff were not intended to be insensitive:

“I want to personally apologize for the recent incident and any pain that it may have caused out students, faculty, staff and the community. We did not intend to cause harm or to be insensitive. I hope this doesn’t detract from the hard work we — the entire UofL community — have done and continue to do in building an inclusive, supportive, welcoming campus for all our university family. I pledge to work to ensure that we move forward as one university.”

Karman says Ramsey is in Winston-Salem today, traveling with the university’s football team to attend tomorrow’s game, but Krauth of the student newspaper tweeted this video of students protesting outside of his office this afternoon:

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]


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