LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Student protesters at the University of Kentucky have ended their occupation of the campus’s Main Building, where they had been staying since Monday night in an effort to gain the ear of UK President Eli Capilouto, after President Capilouto agreed to commitments the university would make to satisfy the protesters' demands.
After dozens of students slept in the building overnight, Capilouto agreed to meet with student members of the Basic Needs Campaign and Black Student Advisory Council on Tuesday.
UK students chant before President Capilouto meets with them to address housing and food insecurity for students. Members of the Black Student Advisory Board and Basic Needs student groups say over 40% of students can’t afford enough food, 8% can’t afford housing. pic.twitter.com/I8xyJeNeCW— Chelsea Jones (@ChelseaWkyt) April 2, 2019
These student groups were trying to raise awareness about complaints they say affect low-income and black students at UK, like food and housing insecurity and racism on campus. Many students gave heartfelt testimonies during the day’s meetings.
Some members of the Basic Needs Campaign were on a hunger strike for the past six days in protest of the lack of a physical office on campus to help students who cannot afford sufficient food or housing.
UK already employs the Big Blue Pantry, a space where struggling students and come and grab whatever they need, but these striking students say it just isn’t enough.
"We also have students who do live out of their cars, who do couch surf, so we know those students slip through the cracks,” said UK student Tsage Douglas.
Tuesday, students with the Black Student Advisory Council also spoke to Capilouto about some of their concerns and demands.
The biggest concern brought forth during the meeting was the conversation surrounding a 1930’s fresco mural painted by Ann Rice O’Hanlon depicting Lexington’s early history, currently being displayed in Memorial Hall. The mural includes controversial scenes like one depicting black men and women planting tobacco, and another showing a Native American man with a tomahawk.
In 2015, after meetings with groups of black students, Capilouto ordered the mural to be temporarily covered. In 2018, UK had commissioned artist Karyn Olivier to add to Memorial Hall in hopes of providing context to the mural.
After hours of meetings today, Capilouto told students that he hears their frustrations and will do what he can to find solutions.
"Their concerns are real. They are fair. They deserve our attention. I committed to them that they would have it – now, and as importantly, for the long term, as sustainable progress requires a deep and lasting commitment. They rightfully rely on me – and look to me – as their University President. My obligation, and that of my administration, is to hear them and to work with them to create the institution they want us to be," read a release from Capilouto.
Moving forward, Capilouto has announced that the university will be making a series of new commitments based off the concerns of these student protesters.
Notably, Capilouto has announced that "UK will include a representative from the Black Student Collective on all senior-level search committees" that set out to hire employees like deans and administrators.
UK will also be immediately covering the O'Hanlon mural that hangs in Memorial Hall, and will construct a new committee to determine a long-term plan for the mural, according to a release from Capilouto.
Capilouto also announced that a full-time staff member will be hired to coordinate UK's approach to food and housing insecurity. Capilouto also announced that UK will consolidate already existing funds into a "one-stop shop to better handle requests related to food and housing insecurity."
Based on these commitments students with both the Basic Needs Campaign and Black Student Advisory Council agreed to leave the Main Building and end their hunger strike, according to Capilouto.
"This morning, I pledged to the students – and those they represent – that we must do more. Indeed, we will do more," read a release from Capilouto.