While 50 degree temperature may be forcing WKU students, faculty
and staff to wear warm shoes, a national organization is encouraging
people to "rock" moccasins.
WKU is participating in "Rock
Your Mocs" this year but those on WKU's faculty and
staff email lists woke up to a charged debate Wednesday morning,
spurred by a reminder email for the event sent out by the Office
of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion.
Jackie Pillow, assistant director of Graduate and Alumni Relations,
encouraged people to participate in "Rock Your Mocs,"
which, according to Pillow, would "support Native American
Heritage Month [b]y wearing moccasins all day to class, to
work, around the house, to the store, etc."
"Rock Your Mocs" started in New Mexico, and has grown
to other schools with a large Native population according to the
The email immediately caught the attention of Elizabeth Winkler,
an associate professor in the English Department.
Winkler, who identifies as Cherokee, said the presentation of
the email "was not well thought out."
Winkler sent back a message to Pillow and copied all faculty
and staff saying, "A bunch of white people wearing moccasins
honors diversity. Take a walk in my shoes
Other faculty and staff sounded off on the event or the constant
amount of emails, perpetuating a large stream of replies.
After participating in the email exchange, Victoria LaPoe, an
assistant professor for the school of Journalism and Broadcasing,
said that she feels that the "Rock Your Mocs" isn't
the most constructive way to talk about Native American culture.
"You should go spend time in the culture, spend time with
natives, and I'm not saying that people on the email list weren't
doing this but there needs to be a healthy debate."
LaPoe, who also identifies as Cherokee, said she reached out
the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion to help foster
that kind of debate. As of Friday afternoon she is still waiting
for a response.
But in the meantime, LaPoe said after her response she received
15-20 emails from other faculty and staff with a range of opinions.
"To me when I was talking about education, it's about
connecting and understanding what you're talking about, to
a culture, to a group," she said.
Winkler said a clarification email from Andrea Garr-Barnes,
director of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion,
cleared up a lot of her original perceptions.
"We may be a little hypersensitive to slights," Winkler
said, referring to the original email.
Garr-Barnes' email said her office appreciated input from
the email exchange, adding, "Western Kentucky University's
participation in 'National Rock Your Mocs Day' provides
campus community constituents with an opportunity to use our privilege
to remind ourselves and the larger community that we have a moral
obligation to use our voices in solidarity."
Garr-Barnes and the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion
declined an interview request.
Richard Miller, chief diversity officer, said in an email that
"Rock Your Mocs" is one option people can consider to
"express their understanding and appreciation for the contributions
Native Americans have made to our country."
Winkler said it was good sign that the campus had the kind of
debate it did online.
"At least we're paying attention," she said.