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Another academic year draws to a close this month, and as it ends I have mixed emotions. I’m certainly happy for the graduates, as well as the students who’ve just completed a year of outstanding education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. At the same time, I’m concerned about the racially charged incidents that were reported on the UW–Madison campus this past semester.
We are better than this. That’s what UW–Madison Dean of Students Lori Berquam wrote in a statement in March, two days after some individuals disrupted a Native American ceremony with mock war chants outside of the Dejope residence hall. I agree with her. In an interview I had with her in March, she acknowledged other incidents: a student putting images of swastikas on the door of a Jewish student’s residence hall room, a student spitting on a group of African American students who live in Sellery residence hall and someone leaving graffiti with a racial slur in a restroom at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.
University officials have been quick to condemn such acts, but it was the visceral reaction by Patrick Sims, UW–Madison vice provost for diversity and climate, that captured the indignation felt by many of us who want the hatred to stop. He expressed his views in a YouTube video on March 31, the same day an African American student found a profane message on a flier that had been slipped under her door. The video was aptly titled, “Enough is Enough.”
UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced on March 15 a plan to expand or accelerate some initiatives that include a pilot program of “cultural competency” and “community building” activities for new students in the fall, and the hiring of two positions for student mental health issues related to diversity and climate. She says she seeks a partnership with students, faculty and staff who have ideas to address cultural and behavioral change. That’s a good start. And although the plans weren’t enough to deter the action that Sims referred to in his video, they provide a vital component toward conquering hate—working together to find solutions.
The university shouldn’t feel alone in addressing this problem. This is our issue as a community. If any place can stand up to this vexing challenge and prevail, it’s Madison.