As our nation grapples with the legacy of racism and injustice, we continue to engage in important conversations about how we will affect positive change. As part of this reckoning, cities and institutions across the country have questioned and examined critically the symbols, statues and names that mark our public spaces and shape our organizations.
At WKU, we have affirmed our commitment to do more to ensure we live in a world that is more fair, just and equitable for all. That commitment, however, requires us to also take the time to look inward. The symbols we select and the names we use as a university should communicate our values, honor individuals for exemplary service, and recognize philanthropic investment. In many ways, the names we carve into our buildings and attach to our academic units should define for members of our community the best of what we have been, what we are, and what we aspire to be.
As I shared during Faculty and Staff Convocation, I have established a task force, separate from our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Work Group, to conduct a thorough examination of the history of WKU’s namings; explore options for how we might address those that might be problematic; and make recommendations for university leadership to consider.
Specifically, this group will:
This will require difficult and challenging conversations, but the effort is vital as we consider the ways in which we welcome and support every member of the WKU community.
One such conversation that has been ongoing within the WKU community during the past few years concerns a marker denoting Bowling Green as the Confederate State Capital of Kentucky. This marker was placed on U.S. 68 when it was on the edge of our campus and was a heavily traveled route into downtown. As our institution grew, that road became College Heights Boulevard – owned by the University – and the federal highway changed to University Boulevard. However, the highway marker remained. The Kentucky Historical Society agrees that this placement is out of historical context, and the sign has been removed and placed in storage until KHS can designate a contextually-appropriate location.
Finally, this fall the DEI Work Group will host a series of Deliberative Dialogues to foster honest conversations about systemic racism and provide students, faculty and staff with the opportunity to consider the complex issue of names and symbols on our campus. The Dialogues will be open to the entire campus community. Information about registration will be available soon.
We must remember that lasting, systemic change can only be achieved if each of us accepts our own role in advancing equity and inclusion at WKU and beyond. Thank you for your continued efforts to make our campus One WKU.
Timothy C. Caboni