After Thanksgiving break, students at Western Kentucky University and Indiana University were greeted by windows adorned with holly wreaths, bell towers illuminated with red and green lights and pine garland lining lamp posts. Wreaths and lights adorn both of these public universities.
Upon arriving to UK’s campus after Thanksgiving break or even today as you are walking to class, you will find no such thing. Nowhere on campus is there a single strand of lights on a tree or a bow hanging from a lamp post.
As a freshman last year, I expected to return to this community after Thanksgiving break to find lights and garland on lamp posts and maybe even red and green lights shining up Memorial Hall’s clock tower. I was disappointed to find this was not the case, neither last nor this year.
The defense most people would instantly give is that because we belong to a public, state university, we cannot honor religious holidays. It is true that we belong to a public university, but 26 years ago, the Supreme Court decided that public religious decorations are legal so long as they do not advocate or express disapproval of a religion (Lynch v. Donnelly).
Could one honestly argue that candy canes painted on White Hall’s windows advocate the Christian belief of Christ’s birth? The majority of the students on campus no doubt honor holidays this month, such as Christmas and Hanukkah. If other public universities such as Indiana and Western Kentucky can decorate their campuses with lights and wreaths, why can’t we?
Our university has the obligation to help students feel welcome in this community, but has shied away from decorating our campus to avoid offending its students.
As we approach the dreaded exam week, what objection would you have to a wreath hanging on the doors of Willy T.? Imagine how beautiful it would be at night if the pine trees along the path in front of White Hall were adorned with several strands of white lights.
There is no doubt that our campus is a diverse one, but it is also one that should do its best to make its students feel at home. Acknowledging this holiday season would be a simple, yet effective way of accomplishing that task. When you are home over break, take a drive through your town and notice the glowing lights, decorated trees and holly wreaths that mark this festive time of year. Then, imagine how marvelous it would be to see those same decorations here on the campus that you also call home.