Opinion: The University of Kentucky incident indicates a much bigger racism problem.

A white student at the university attacked a Black student and called her the n-word almost 200 times. But the University of Kentucky isn’t the only place with this problem.

Payton Selby, Contributing Writer

When I was applying to college in 2020, my parents urged me to apply to schools that were “anywhere but the South.” Nothing in Alabama, or Kentucky, or Mississippi. For a brief moment, I considered the College of William and Mary in Virginia, but no — Virginia was still a little too Southern for comfort.

So last Sunday morning, when my Twitter feed exploded with videos of a white University of Kentucky senior attacking a Black classmate with racist, hateful language, I was disgusted and disheartened — but not surprised. In the 10-minute video, senior Sophia Rosing used the N-word almost 200 times while kicking and biting her classmate.

The headshot of a female blond. Behind her there is a gray background.
University of Kentucky student Sophia Rosing was arrested and banned from the university. (Photo via Fayette County Jail)

One particular moment of Rosing’s brazen and poisonous racial attack lingered in my brain in the days following. After almost four minutes of Rosing singing and shouting consistent racial slurs, the individual filming the incident said, “You just ruined your whole life on camera.” 

Rosing confidently responded, “No, no I didn’t.”

How could Rosing be so confident in the support of her surrounding community? Why was she so sure that her friends and family would excuse this incident? Because of where she was. Nowhere is racism so openly celebrated as in the American South. Growing up in Georgia, I had become uniquely acquainted with the high tolerance for racism that exists in the South, and I knew this was precisely the kind of racism my parents had experienced their whole lives and were trying to extricate from my future. 

Rosing has since been de-enrolled from the university, fired from her internship at a department store, and arrested for her violence. But a number of her friends and apologists on Twitter have erupted in support of her.

There has been no update from the university about punitive action against these students. Additionally, rather than expel Rosing themselves, the University of Kentucky gave her the opportunity to withdraw on her own accord. 

To me, this is the crux of the issue that my parents spotted when I began my own college admissions process. There is a culture of racism — both at the University of Kentucky and throughout the country, but most particularly the South — that is content to tolerate racism in private. 

The virality of the video forced the university to respond to the racism they had allowed to escalate. In fact, another Black student, Kyra Hughes, said that she had attempted to report her for racially insensitive comments long before the escalation of her racism became infamous. 

President Eli Capilouto, tasked himself and the larger University of Kentucky community with facing Rosing’s racism head-on. “We must reckon with and discuss these uncomfortable and painful issues each day,” his statement reads.

However, these words are lukewarm; since 2020, discussions of racism have been more prevalent than ever. The students supporting Rosing are well aware it is racist to say the N-word — they just do not care. They are racist and they are proud.

The night after the incident dozens of other students held a protest outside of the campus library. A video of the student who Rosing attacked speaking at the event surfaced shortly after. Addressing Rosing and other racists on campus, she said, “You will not break my spirit, and you will be held accountable for your actions.” 

Unfortunately, the individuals who this message addressed were not there to hear it. The crowd was overwhelmingly composed of Black students desiring to support their classmate and rally together as a community. However, this moment of communal grieving should not be mistaken as the university’s own attempt at progress. The white students most in need of hearing this message have yet to be held accountable. 

NYU students are lucky that there is no direct parallel to the violent student-on-student racism perpetrated by Rosing on our campus. People come to NYU specifically for its diversity, and New York is one of the most diverse cities in the country. But that doesn’t mean we should neglect to learn from this incident. There have been multiple instances of antisemitic messages and anti-Asian violence by strangers around campus. In both cases, the university has made statements regarding the incidents, but not much more. The assault at the University of Kentucky is something the administration needs to reflect on in order to better address any future on-campus violence.

To unravel the deeply ingrained culture of racism at the University of Kentucky and across the country, hardline punishment ought to be our first and primary recourse. If there are no tangible social repercussions for the proclamation racist ideologies, institutions must seek to transform their communities by being the first to issue a no-tolerance policy of any racist ideation. 

In the meantime, students everywhere should join the student who was attacked in her goal of resilience in the face of the insidious, pervasive racism that confidently rears its head at the University of Kentucky and across the country. 

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Payton Selby at [email protected].