Finding New Ways to be a Source for Hope

Photo of volunteers working at COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Kroger Field

President Capilouto discussed UK’s efforts on vaccination and diversity, equity and inclusion with the Board of Trustees Friday, Feb. 19. Here are his remarks:

We have talked often in this space about the twin pandemics our country confronts. One infects our lungs and bodies.  Another one can afflict hearts and minds.

We must play a role now in asking and answering a critical question posed by both:

How do we bring the prospect of hope and healing, reckoning and reconciliation, to these historic challenges?

The University of Kentucky – your university, the Commonwealth’s university – has long been a source of hope. But we all know that hope alone is not a strategy or a plan.

Now, today, in this moment and in this place, we are also a source for solutions.

In the fight against a virus that jumps from continent to continent, country to country in mere months and with impunity, life-saving vaccines have been developed in record time – moving from laboratory to the marketplace in record time.

It is a historic feat of science and discovery.

We have been home to one of the clinical trials – the best enrolled in the world – that will help bring to the market what is expected to be the next vaccine approved for distribution – a one-shot solution from Johnson and Johnson.

But that is only the beginning for us. UK also is playing an outsized and pivotal role in delivering life-saving vaccines to Kentuckians.

Last month, in partnership with the state, we launched a regional COVID-19 vaccine distribution center at Kroger Field – a collaboration among UK HealthCare, UK Athletics, our Emergency Operations Center and hundreds of volunteers among students, faculty and staff in our health colleges.

In alignment with state guidance, UK HealthCare in December began vaccinating health care workers – those on the front lines of combating this deadly virus.

To date, thousands of doses have been delivered to those who have willingly risked all for so many.

Following those important efforts, and after demonstrating to our partners that we had both the infrastructure and logistical capability to vaccinate on a larger scale, the state turned to us.

We raised our hands and said if you make the vaccines available, we will vaccinate all K-12 employees in Fayette Country – some 9,000 people. We did the bulk of them in a little more than two weeks.

Our schools are ready to return. Our children are ready to learn together again. But that’s only one facet of this mission.

We have provided nearly 1,800 doses to first responders. We have provided hope and healing -- through more than 20,000 doses -- to people age 70 and over.

And we have vaccinated thousands on our campus, too – teachers and custodians, researchers and groundskeepers. Those who work in residence halls and dining facilities and who risk more to do more for our students.

Now, we have moved into the next phase of vaccine distribution – providing doses, as directed by the state, to essential employees of businesses and institutions across our community, including more members of the UK community.

In recent days, we’ve increased the capacity of what already was the state’s largest vaccination center.

We will move from roughly 300 people an hour to 400 an hour who can be vaccinated when operating at full capacity. We will go from the potential of nearly 3,000 shots of hope a day to the potential of some 4,000.

To date, we have administered more than 60,000 doses – a size, scope and scale unlike anything else in Kentucky.

If you’ve been to the clinic, you can see the relief on people’s faces ... the joy in their eyes as they think about the burdens lifted and anxieties eased by this vaccine. You can feel the hope and happiness pulsing from that stadium like a beating heart.

Yet, we also know that while this virus moves indiscriminately across zip-codes and geographies, it does discriminate.

It accelerates and exacerbates health disparities and access for those already medically underserved.

In partnership with the state and the city, we are working with four sites in Lexington to launch a mobile vaccination clinic over the next several weeks, starting this weekend.

We will vaccinate thousands of people in our county – particularly in communities of color – who have not had access to vaccines. We are taking hope and solutions on the road – meeting people in need where they are.

This is another example of us fulfilling our role as the University of, for and with Kentucky.

And all of that is possible because of our people.

Volunteers from our health colleges have banded together to provide additional vaccines at Kroger Field – opening the clinics on Saturday afternoons to move another 1,000 patients through those doors each week.

Faculty, staff and students across our campus have volunteered to serve in non-clinical roles – manning registration desks, providing directions and assisting those with limited mobility in navigating the space.

Staff from across our campus have taken on new duties to assist with scheduling, customer service and other logistical needs. Our Facilities Management staff have repeatedly arrived in the early hours of the morning – and stay late into the night -- to clear sidewalks and shovel snow around the stadium to make sure we could provide access to these vaccines.

Long hours. Difficult days. Complex logistical lifts. But at every step of the way, our people knew they were part of something important, something bigger than themselves. They were part of providing hope.

Indeed, scrolling through social media feeds, emails and letters to our offices, is like reading a homily of hope. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to get a shot,” said one K-12 educator. Another wrote to us saying receiving an invitation to be vaccinated felt like winning the lottery. These people are our local heroes, said one email.

This should remind us of what we – as a deeply caring community – can do, when united toward a common purpose with uncommon resolve.

What about the other pandemic?

We also are continuing our journey in making our campus a place of acceptance and belonging for our students, faculty, staff and larger community. 

At the center of this work is our Office for Institutional Diversity. 

Dr. George Wright has been leading our efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) on an interim basis since June of last year. 

He will continue in his role as a senior advisor to me once a permanent Vice President for Institutional Diversity is selected. 

The search committee for this position met earlier this week to be charged in their efforts and to launch a national search, led by its co-chairs – Dean of the College of Medicine Dr. Robert DiPaola and Interim Dean of Students Dr. Trisha Clement-Montgomery. 

At the same time, we are not resting in our efforts to make this campus more welcoming, accessible and accepting of all people. 

Last year, our team came to this board reinvigorated with a plan to respond to social injustices – both past and present – with a plan of progress for this institution toward diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Since then, scores of faculty, staff, and students – more than 600 people – have given their most valuable resource – their time and talents – as part of 17 projects in Phase One of the university’s DEI plan.

Universities across the country – like communities throughout America – are reckoning with historic and systemic racism and injustice. 

We spent time together yesterday, learning to better understand the often-biased lenses through which we view and understand some of these issues.

This institution – like others – has a complex and fraught history with race. 

It was only a little more than 70 years ago that we were first integrated, when Lyman T. Johnson forced us to reckon with an at times ugly history. 

Our physical spaces and mental places are marked by that history, too – even to this day.

It is up to us to uncover our history and repair that which is not yet whole.

Yes, we have made undeniable progress – educating and graduating more students of color than any other institution in our state. 

But stubborn gaps in academic progress remain. 

And we must do more to provide greater opportunities for staff and faculty of color to not only join our community, but to be elevated and promoted as well.

How do we reconcile our past with our progress…our significant advances with those matters on which we fall short? That also is part of the collective story of this place.

I think the answer for a university like ours lies in our capacity to do what makes us special. 

We are a place always motivated by a continual commitment to reflection and renewal.

We are willing to promote our progress. 

We also must be willing to just as readily confront and interrogate those times in our past and our present where our deeds did and do not match our words.

That is what an intellectually vibrant – and essential – institution does.

It reflects so that it might renew – renew our commitments, renew our promises, renew our purpose to be a community where everyone is accepted. 

That is how we serve our students and prepare them for a world filled with both challenge and opportunity.

It is in that spirit – the spirit of reflection and renewal – that I am pleased to provide some highlights of the important work being done under Dr. Wright’s leadership.

This afternoon, I have a progress report on three projects where significant steps forward are being made. 

The Facilities and Finance Workstream has the executive oversight of Dean Mark Shanda from the College of Fine Arts and Dr. Eric Monday.  

All three projects are within the workstream they sponsor.

One project – led by Interim Assistant Vice President for Auxiliary Services Andrew Smith and Vice President for Facilities Management Mary Vosevich – is focused on creating a Diversity and Inclusivity Master Plan.

You can read a release about those efforts here:

The members are working to identify existing areas of concern on the campus relative to institutional history, art, sculpture and civic landscapes, accessibility and other barriers to inclusion within buildings across the campus. 

The plan will inform efforts across the entire campus and complement our existing master plan, which has guided so much of the transformation of our campus – from buildings and transportation routes to additional green space and gathering places. 

To help facilitate this work, we have embraced best-in-class consulting firm Sasaki – which helped with the creation of our campus master plan several years ago – to engage stakeholders from around the university collaboratively. 

The master plan will include a vision that can be implemented for transforming the campus over time to create a more inclusive, equitable and barrier-free environment. 

Over the next several months, they will talk with students, faculty and staff to deeply listen and gather ideas for the plan’s development. We hope to come forward with a concrete action plan in July.

Complementing that effort is another initiative – the creation of a dedicated Art Fund for Capital projects.

On capital projects over $1 million, we will automatically create a fund to commission art that manifestly enhances diversity, equity and inclusion on the campus. You can read more about that plan here:

To best accomplish the goal of intentional and impactful public art on campus, a team, led by Executive Director of Strategic Policy and Analysis Melody Flowers, will assign the role of “Curator” for UK’s public art.  

A standing DEI Public Art Committee will provide the board the input and support necessary for a successful university-wide public art initiative.

But our role in diversity and equity must extend beyond our campus community and into the broader community we serve. 

Chief Procurement Officer Barry Swanson has led a team, focused on how we increase diversity among the suppliers and others with whom our institution does business. 

This is an opportunity to open wider doors to stronger relationships with minority-owned businesses and suppliers.

I am pleased to share that, after a national search, Ms. Marilyn Clark has agreed to join the university as Supplier Diversity Manager – a critical position that will provide the dedicated focus required to build trust and credibility in the community related to procurement. 

Ms. Clark, who is deeply respected throughout our community, joins UK after spending more than five years with the Fayette County Schools in a similar role. You can read an interview with Ms. Clark here:  

It is not possible to share this afternoon the progress made by the hundreds of individuals on the 17 projects – all in advancement of UK’s vision for a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus community. We will be back regularly with more reports.

The work of these individuals and our collective community is not finished. 

Much has been done. Still more remains.  

Together, we are finding ways anew – in our own time and at this moment – to answer the challenge that we have been called to grapple with:

Bringing the prospect of hope and healing, reckoning and reconciliation, to this generation and to those who will follow.