COMMENTARY: What is in a Name?…

I am a historically ‘establishment’ individual. However, with the recent decision of the WKU administration in changing the name of the beloved ‘DUC’ to the new, more sophisticated Downing Student Union, I find myself siding with what seems to be the majority of the student and alumni population in what is growing to be a standoff against the leaders of the university. When I arrived on WKU’s campus in the Fall of 2008, I was ignorant of so many of the campus traditions and history that would soon define an important chapter of my life. However, that would soon change. Within the first weeks of my time as a student, the red towel, the Hill, Cherry Hall, the kissing bridge, the Spirit Makes the Master, College Heights, Big Red—all of it became a part of me. The university lends itself to a unique and definitive feel of family. If one allows themself, they will soon be caught up in the “feel” of WKU, much as I was. Unique. That is my alma mater. We didn’t care when other institutions made fun of our fanatic waving of a towel. We paid no attention to those that question what a ‘Big Red’ was—or “what kind of mascot is a hilltop, anyway?” That is why I find it difficult to believe that WKU leadership justifies their callous disregard for a nearly half-a-century tradition by saying that “other universities do it.” I hate to be cliché, ‘but if other universities were jumping off of bridges…’

Perhaps my biggest issue with the name change is the complete and total disregard for the opinion of the student body. The students that have attended WKU and those currently enrolled have spent thousands of dollars to do so. Their opinions on such matters should be respected. Rather—the WKU administration has sent the message that they are a large and in charge institution steam-rolling over the students they seek to serve. This is in direct contradiction to the family environment that the university has spent decades attempting to propagate. Vice president for Student Affairs, Howard Bailey, is quoted as saying that ‘student union means it belongs more to the students.’ If that is true, then the students—who voted down the name change in the Student Government Administration (sic) —should have a say in the identity of their building.

The part of my life that I spent at WKU was beyond a dream. The institution changed me, molded me, and in many ways, defined me. To me, “The Spirit Makes the Master” is a concept steeped in passion; it is what makes WKU become more than an institution and more than just a group of buildings full of classrooms. “The Spirit Makes the Master” means allowing Western and all its opportunities and prospects to pervade your own hesitancies and shortcomings. It means that you were not “once a Topper”, but will remain “always a Topper”. The Spirit does not simply arrive in a gift-wrapped box at your doorstep; rather, it is only achieved through an active pursuit, just as greatness is not given but attained. Western Kentucky University provided me with possibility, but the institution itself is a guiding beacon. That, more than anything is the exact definition of “The Spirit Makes the Master”. It means pushing past the red tape and the politics of an establishment and allowing the notion to grow and prosper as it was intended to do so, as a living, breathing entity all its own.

In conclusion, I urge WKU to stay true to the roots they’ve put down on that Bowling Green hill. We did not get where we are today by attempting to keep up with other “benchmark universities.” Our success is based as much on our traditions and our history as it is upon the growth and changes taking place around campus. DUC is more than just a name and more than just a building to so many. It’s where we met up with our friends, where we studied, where we waited in line for Fresh’s Thanksgiving dinner, where our Spirit Master meetings were held every Wednesday night. So to those of you that argue that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, I ask you how you would feel about a flower named “the stinking corpse lily.” It exists…just look it up.


Hunter (Stevens) Whitaker

2012 Graduate