It’s one thing when a fraternity house hosts an offensive costume party. It’s a wildly different thing when the university president shows up to faculty event wearing an offensive Mexican sombrero costume.
University of Louisville president James R. Ramsey was pictured at a staff luncheon wearing a stereotypical Mexican sombrero and a sarape with traditional colors. The university president is seen standing next to 18 other individuals who are wearing sombreros, exaggerated mustaches, and maracas.
The party was hosted at the president’s mansion owned by the university. The president’s wife Jane Ramsey, who said she loves Halloween, handed out sombreros, fake mustaches, and veils to more than a dozen people as they arrived, according to the Courier Journal.
“When I saw the photo I felt it at the pit of of my stomach. I couldn’t believe it that this was happening,” a Latino student at the school told Fusion. The student said he prefered not to share his name because of fear the story would go viral and he would be criticized.
The University of Louisville has almost 16,000 undergraduate students, about 628 of whom are Latinos.
The student said seeing his school president in the picture was especially upsetting because the school is in the South. He noted the school sits across the street from a Confederate monument honoring the “Confederate dead.”
“There’s a word for this. It’s called racism,” wrote Olivia Krauth, editor of the student newspaper The Louisville Cardinal, on Thursday.
“It’s been about two hours and I’m still dumbfounded,” she wrote. “The president of a school that prides itself in diversity opted to dress himself and his staff as a culture for Halloween. Not just a culture, but a minority that is frequently faced with prejudice.”
In an email sent to Fusion a University of Louisville spokesperson confirmed Dr. Ramsey and several “staff members are in the picture.”
“I write to express a sincere apology for the choice of Halloween costumes at our staff luncheon. We made a mistake and are very sorry,” read a statement issued by Ramsey’s chief of staff Kathleen Smith.
Smith said the office is committed to meeting with “students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members to further focus on diversity and racial equality issues underpinning the pluralistic society we all support.”
No word yet from Dr. Ramsey himself.
The University’s statement is published in its entirety below:
To Hispanic/Latino Faculty, Staff and Students at the University of Louisville
As Chief of Staff to the President, I write to express a sincere apology for the choice of Halloween costumes at our staff luncheon. We made a mistake and are very sorry. 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.
Kathleen Smith, Chief of Staff to the President