WKU to consider name changes to buildings, colleges named after former slave owners

Published: Aug. 21, 2020 at 6:20 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - With national calls for racial equality amid civil unrest after the death of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, Western Kentucky University is considering name changes to buildings and colleges named after men who were slave owners.

“The two that seem to be the most problematic at the moment are Potter College of Arts and Letters and the Ogden College of Science and Engineering, both of which are named for people who have a history of slave ownership back in the 1800′s. Both of these colleges started as private colleges, financing from these two gentlemen, and eventually were became part of Western Kentucky University,” said Director of Media Relations at WKU, Bob Skipper.

I just spoke with Western Kentucky University Director of Media Relations, Bob Skipper, about WKU considering name...

Posted by Brandon Jarrett on Friday, August 21, 2020

“The entities that currently are named identify those that might be problematic in the history of the persons names who are on those. We want to make sure that they uphold the ideas of the university which includes diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Skipper.

WKU is preparing a task force called the WKU Naming and Symbols Task Force, that will review the names of all buildings and colleges on campus and receive input on possible name changes.

President of WKU, Dr. Timothy Caboni issued a statement on Friday about the name changes and task force.

“Dear Colleagues,

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:

  1. Solicit input and perspectives from a broad range of constituencies and stakeholders that will guide us as we examine the origins of the names and symbols used on campus.
  2. Audit the names used on buildings and other campus symbols to determine which may be connected to exclusion, segregation, racism or slavery.
  3. Create a set of guiding principles and range of options for how we should address any issues raised.
  4. Provide to university leadership a set of recommendations.

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.”

Copyright 2020 WBKO. All rights reserved.