Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said treating the start of American slavery as a significant moment in the country’s history is an “exotic notion.” Leaders at the University of Louisville, where he made that comment on Monday, say he’s wrong.

V. Faye Jones, senior associate vice president for diversity and equity, pushed back on his comments in a campus-wide email Thursday. She said university leaders, including President Neeli Bendapudi, joined her in rejecting “the idea that the year 1619 is not a critical moment in the history of this country.“

Bendapudi was on stage with McConnell when he criticized the New York Times’ 1619 Project and said its teachings should not be core to American civic education.

“There are a lot of exotic notions about what are the most important points in American history. I simply disagree with the notions the New York Times laid out there that the year 1619 was one of those years,” he said, adding that racial discrimination is America’s “original sin.”

McConnell is one of the university’s most famous and powerful alumni. He founded its McConnell Center, a nonpartisan program that aims to “identify, recruit and nurture Kentucky’s next generation of great leaders.”

In the email, Jones said ignoring slavery’s importance to American history denies what Black Americans have overcome and erases the context surrounding racial discrimination in this country.

“What we know to be true is that slavery and the date the first enslaved Africans arrived and were sold on U.S. soil are more than an ‘exotic notion,’” she wrote. “ If the Civil War is a significant part of history, should not the basis for it also be viewed as significant?”

Jones said she, Bendapudi and Provost Lori Stewart Gonzalez rejected McConnell’s statements because they contradict the university’s vision of fostering an educational community that respects and understands human differences.

A spokesperson for McConnell did not directly provide comment on the UofL email. Robert Steurer instead provided a link to McConnell’s letter U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona from last month.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Editor.