In an effort to prioritize other university brands and to promote brand consistency, WKU is in the process of removing white squirrel images from different areas of campus and the WKU Bookstore.
Brad Wheeler, vice president of business services stated he instructed the WKU Bookstore to remove white squirrel merchandise from the top of their advertising and lower their placement on shelves because it should not have “top billing” over Big Red or Red Towel merchandise.
“There is and will be only one Big Red,” Wheeler said.
There are multiple departments and WKU-funded organizations that currently feature some version of the white squirrel, including the WKU Office of Sustainability, White Squirrel Weather Service, WKU Store, the campus bookstore, and the WKU English Department, who has named its unofficial mascot Cherry the White Squirrel.
The WKU Alumni Association also had a mascot costume of Wally the White Squirrel, but it was retired in the Spring of 2017, according to Alumni Association Director Anthony McAdoo.
McAdoo said the tradition did not take hold like the Alumni Association thought it would and maintaining the costume became too problematic, and Wally was retired to “focus and maintain WKU’s brands.”
According to the WKU Communication and Branding Manual, all academic and administrative units can use the WKU logo exclusively, with the University Seal and Athletics (which include the Red Towel and Big Red) falling under restrictive use. While the white squirrel image was first seen around campus in 2013, there has never been any mention of it in the manual.
The white squirrel has never been any kind of official logo for WKU, according to Vice President of Public Affairs Robbin Taylor.
Referencing the English Department, Taylor said in an email that permission was not granted to use Cherry the White Squirrel based on WKU’s “long-standing policy and university guidelines for the proper use of WKU logos for university departments,” as mentioned in the Communication and Branding Manual.
Director of Media Relations Bob Skipper said in an email that considering the image’s widespread recognition around WKU, the Marketing Office is “exploring the possibility of creating an image of the white squirrel that is unique to WKU and that would be appropriately licensed for the University’s use within a defined set of parameters.”
Skipper said the Marketing and Communications office is still in the early stages of that process.
He clarified that should the white squirrel be added to be a part of the WKU brand, they would have to clearly denote that it would not be a mascot nor presented as one.
“Big Red is the nationally recognized mascot for WKU,” Skipper said. “Big Red, the Red Towel and the WKU institutional logo are the best-known symbols associated with WKU.”
In an interview, President Tim Caboni said the challenge with the White Squirrel logo is the lack of a trademark.
"The white squirrel is an important mark for the institution but it’s not an official university mark, and because of that we need to work together to figure out how we make best use of that image," Caboni said.
Additionally, Caboni said different colleges and departments within the university need to use the same brand to have a consistent message which improves the institution.
“If you try to differentiate either with message or with look feel, it actually hurts the overall effort," Caboni said.
Students around WKU’s campus said they recognized the prevalence of the image, from posters to apparel.
Cleveland, Tennessee senior Zach Hensley said when he pictured WKU he thought of football and white squirrels.
“Those are everywhere,” Hensley said.
Bowling Green sophomore Kelly Stone said she didn’t personally own any white squirrel merchandise but felt the image had become WKU’s “second mascot.”
“If we could make the white squirrel our logo, I’d be ready,” Stone said.