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As Louisville’s President Apologizes for Insensitivity, Students Demand Changes

With dozens of students rallying outside his office, the president of the University of Louisville apologized on Friday after he and other university officials were criticized for wearing stereotypical Mexican costumes in a photograph.

The president, James R. Ramsey, expressed his regrets a day after the university apologized and as national attention to the incident grew. Faculty members seemed surprised that the university’s senior leadership didn’t realize the costumes would be a problem.

“I can’t speak for the Hispanics and Latinos, but this was really — I hate to say — ignorant,” said Benjamin P. Foster, an accounting professor at the university. “I don’t know how they could have not known that, particularly several higher-level administrators.”

Mr. Ramsey apologized for the incident and any pain it had caused students, faculty, and staff. At a Halloween party at a university-owned mansion on Wednesday, Mr. Ramsey and several other officials donned sombreros and mustaches and held maracas in a photograph. Mr. Ramsey also wore a multicolored poncho in the photograph.

“We did not intend to cause harm or to be insensitive,” he said in the emailed apology. “I hope this doesn’t detract from the hard work we — the entire U. of L. 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.”

Students stood outside the president’s office on Friday afternoon and chanted “Racist Ramsey has to go!” Mr. Ramsey, however, was in North Carolina with the university’s football team, which was to play Wake Forest University that evening.

Minority students on the campus are using the incident as a platform to demand changes they say would make the public university more inclusive, said Tania Avalos, a first-year graduate student who also completed her undergraduate degree at Louisville. Different minority-student organizations collaborated on a list of nine demands for the administration, which they distributed at Friday’s rally.

The students are to meet with Mr. Ramsey next week, and they spoke with the vice provost for diversity during the rally on Friday. During that meeting, the students narrowed their demands to focus on diversity training for all employees, more scholarships for minority students, moving a Confederate statue on the campus, and renovating the campus’s cultural center, Ms. Avalos said.

“I guess the diversity only exists within certain pockets of the university, and not really as a whole,” Ms. Avalos said. “It has to start with the leader.”

John Karman, a spokesman for the university, said that administrators were aware of the demands but that he did not want to speculate on which, if any, would be enacted.

David S. Owen, an associate professor of philosophy and director of diversity programs for the College of Arts and Sciences, said that faculty members were “shocked” by the incident and that it had set back other work that faculty and staff members have done for diversity and to improve the campus environment for minority students. Some have called for Mr. Ramsey to step down, he said.

“It begins to at least look like there’s this culture of disrespect whether of women or persons of color or Latinos and so on,” he said. “It’s really unfortunate and frustrating for a lot of faculty and staff who work very hard every day to make this an inclusive campus environment.”

Still, Pamela W. Feldhoff, chair of the Faculty Senate, said that the incident was an aberration and that she didn’t think Mr. Ramsey would be ousted. The apology was extensive, she said, and the follow-up action would be most important.

“The mission statement for diversity is really strong, and I’ve been involved in diversity issues, minority STEM grants, it’s a big thing to me,” she said. “This is, to me, just an anomaly. There was no ill-meaning in any of it. I don’t know how these things happen.”

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