Letter to the editor

When I first visited WKU as a prospective student, I met with a professor who mentioned the Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility. I was intrigued by the concept of an academic department dedicated to teaching students to advocate for issues they care about. I was a student who was searching for a meaningful college experience, and the ICSR sounded like the home I was looking for. 

I wasn’t wrong. Today, more than 700 miles away from my actual home, the ICSR has made WKU a second home. The courses I have taken as a social justice minor, the faculty I have worked with and the extracurricular programming have created a space for me to develop my critical thinking skills and expand my role as an engaged and thoughtful citizen.

But now this home is at risk. Last week, WKU administration announced budget reduction plans that would consolidate the ICSR and the ALIVE Center. 

Both the ICSR and the ALIVE Center provide important services and operate with unique voices. The ALIVE Center’s mission is service; the ICSR’s mission is cultivating social justice advocacy and intersectional diversity on campus. Key to this mission is ICSR programming, which fosters a place for social justice scholarship outside the classroom.

These events are a valuable part of students’ interdisciplinary university experience. Consolidation means they cannot be offered on the same scale, if at all. Additionally, Director Judy Rohrer is now the only ICSR faculty member, which threatens the vitality of ICSR course offerings. As an ICSR minor, I fear a more limited schedule of course offerings will impede my ability to graduate with the degree I was promised. What I find puzzling is that the administration promised not to cut any credit-bearing programs, yet my credit-bearing program is being slashed.

All students, staff, faculty and alumni of WKU should be concerned about the disappearance of the ICSR, even if they have never set foot inside our doors. The ICSR makes WKU a welcoming environment for diverse students and increases our national competitiveness. Across campus, the ICSR has been instrumental in making WKU a safer space for students from all walks of life. The ICSR is a levy against the bigotry that has flooded so many college campuses, yet without administrative support, that levy will break. As a woman, I am hurt that my university considers it nonessential to protect vulnerable student populations.

The ICSR is a groundbreaking organization that brings research and scholarship to our campus. It was the uniqueness of the ICSR that convinced me to choose WKU over nationally recognized institutions like Georgetown University. In the future, students will look elsewhere, including at the University of Kentucky, whose administrators are enthusiastically planning a social justice institute even in the face of statewide budget cuts.

It is my wish that our administrators be enthusiastic about our social justice program. The budget cuts are not final until July 1, which means there is still time for administrators to protect the ICSR from disappearance under the guise of consolidation. Whether or not you have known it, the ICSR has been working for you. Do not accept its elimination. I’m not going to. 

-Lily Nellans