Campus News

BLOG: Building Belonging Together

Feb. 4, 2019

“Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words reflect in compelling ways our mission — our profound purpose — at the University of Kentucky.

We are called to teach, to heal, to discover, and to serve. But the ways in which we conduct these labors matter. Our character — the values we instill and uphold — distinguish our community, and while we always have more work to do, I’m very proud of our continued efforts to cultivate belonging.

After all, I believe that empathy is core to who we are as a University of Kentucky family.

I see this sense of empathy, perhaps most clearly, in our students. I can remember when I was their age. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I can see myself in these students, irrespective of their identity. I see the curiosity, the excitement, and the ways in which they are exploring and challenging the world.

It is our calling as educators and mentors to enrich these experiences through empathy. We must guide them, instruct them, and also learn from them, as they build bridges of understanding and belonging.

This responsibility underscores the value proposition of diversity and inclusion. Appreciating and creating relationships across our differences — the essence of grace — is core to learning and growing.

It is central to creating a community where civility prevails.

The month of February provides a special opportunity for us to continue these conversations and grow as an inclusive, empathetic community.

In addition to recognizing Black History Month, we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of racial integration on the UK campus. 

Seventy years ago, Lyman T. Johnson became the first African-American student at the University of Kentucky. With courage and dogged determination, he opened this heavy door and inscribed in our history a profound idea: the bold but graceful declaration that anyone — regardless of who they are, the color of their skin, what they believe, how they identify themselves, or where they are from — can find a place at the University of Kentucky.

Yet, our story demands that we acknowledge that progress on this path has not been a straight line.

There have been moments where we have, as an institution, not honored our aspirations. Those moments provide a compelling reminder that building a community of belonging is a journey, not a project.

It is a vision — rooted in our institution’s soul — but one that has been, and will continue to be, imperfect, but evolving.

Acknowledging our imperfections — those roads we must still travel, the miles we must still traverse, the promise we must still keep — we will continue to work together with determination and compassion to fulfill our purpose as Kentucky’s university.

As Dr. King expressed, education is about so much more than the granting of knowledge.

It is about the cultivation of character.

This month, we will celebrate those on our campus today, as well as those who came before us, who understood and championed Dr. King’s message.

We will chronicle the stories of the trailblazers, innovators and architects who bravely stepped forward or are pushing us ahead today. Their stories speak to us and guide us still.  

You will see these stories on UKNow, YouTube and university social media channels.

You can also see them at: www.uky.edu/buildingbelonging/ 

Thank you for your role in building belonging at the University of Kentucky.

photo of Sonja Feist-Price with students
Pete Comparoni I UK Photo.

Seventy years ago, Lyman T. Johnson forced open the doors of the University of Kentucky by becoming the first African-American student. He, along with countless others, opened a door and created a path for us to follow. It’s the idea that anyone — regardless of who they are, the color of their skin, what they believe, how they identify themselves, or where they are from — can find a place at the University of Kentucky. Yet, our story demands that we acknowledge progress on this path has not been a straight line. There have been moments where we have, as an institution, not honored our aspirations. Those moments provide a compelling reminder that building a community of belonging is a journey, not a project. This month, as part of Black History Month, we are chronicling the stories of the trailblazers, innovators and champions, who bravely stepped forward or are pushing us ahead today. Their stories speak to us and guide us still.