Khari Gardner, founder of the Movement for Black Lives at UK, announced on Twitter on Aug. 29 that UK has initiated a student conduct investigation against him following an on-campus banner display a few weeks ago.
The banners displayed student testimonials about racism experienced on campus and in Lexington.
Unfortunately, I must say that @universityofky has initiated a student conduct violation for my organizing of @blacklivesuky banner drop on August 15th. This escalation and aggression is uncalled for and is in direct retaliation of freedom of expression on campus.— Khari Gardner (@tckeezy) August 29, 2020
According to the letter served to Gardner, the banner display allegedly violates the University Event Signage policy because Gardner did not receive prior approval to hang the banners.
According to Section S of the University Signage Policy, banners that are to be displayed on campus should be approved by the Primary Administrator of the building/facility where the banner will hang and then approved by the University Architect.
Gardner said he was not aware of this policy and approval process.
"Not everything needs a permit to make a statement!” Gardner said.
Gardner said he has previously met with administration and UKPD since the display and has heard no mention of the possibility of disciplinary action.
“I’ve spoken with so many people between then and now, I’ve spoken to UKPD even, and no one has spoken to me saying that I was going to have a conduct violation or that this is something they were going to pursue,” Gardner said.
Gardner said that the action comes so long after the display that it feels like a retaliatory attack.
“This is after the story has left the media, so they clearly knew it would be bad optics and they would clearly show retaliation if they did it right when the story was in the media,” Gardner said.
Gardner said the investigation feels like an attempt to limit freedom of expression on campus.
“UK is acting a little shallow today and ruffled some feathers. It’s disappointing to see that because it’s freedom of expression. I didn’t trespass anywhere. I didn’t vandalize anything. I didn’t break anything. I didn’t disrupt any normal business activities. I put sheets up with rope and zip ties in publicly accessible places on campus,” Gardner said. “It’s kind of disappointing to me that they’re pulling this stretch to punish me for speaking up.”
Freedom of expression is the first clause in the "Rights of UK students" section of UK's Code of Student Conduct.
The code states that student's have the right to picket or demonstrate so long as they "act in an orderly and peaceful manner, do not interfere with normal UK operations and comply with UK’s regulations governing the time, place, and manner of meetings, demonstrations, and other assemblies."
Gardner said the investigation does not match up with statements UK has put out regarding racial justice on campus.
"It was more of just lip service to the marginalization of students on campus," Gardner said. "I’m really disappointed in them for contradicting themselves and falling back on it, but you know I’m here to defend myself and I’m here to make sure that we have the right to speak up on campus."
When the banners were posted on Aug. 15, UK spokesperson Jay Blanton's statement referenced UK's new diversity initiatives and said the goal was to move forward together.
"When members of our community hurt, we all hurt. When members of our community are marginalized by hateful speech or discriminatory actions, we need to act; we must act. We can't be a community when people are victimized," Blanton said.
Gardner said that he wasn’t currently aware of any violations served to other students involved in the display.
“I’m not aware of that at all, but I know for sure that I protect the students who work for me. This is my responsibility. If UK wants to retaliate, retaliate against me. If they bring any other students into it, then it’s definitely going to be an escalation that we all parties do not want,” Gardner said.
Blanton said the university does not comment on "individual student disciplinary measures as a matter of policy.
Gardner said the Office of Student Conduct has scheduled a hearing for his case on Wednesday Sept. 2.