Neil Heinen

Heinen: Racial equity important in Madison College discussions

President Jack Daniels makes effort to keep...

It certainly feels like I worried too much about the Madison College decision. I actually lost a little sleep over crafting an editorial position in support of the proposal to eventually end Madison’s College presence in downtown Madison to eventually build a new campus in south Madison.

I never worried for a second about the vision of President Jack E. Daniels III of a south Madison campus as integral to the college’s mission. I agree. And if it was an either/or proposition, South Madison was the easy choice. I just worried it wasn’t either/or, or didn’t need to be either/or, and I thought that smidgen of ambiguity opened the door for a debate that could be divisive.

It wasn’t. So, do I now give credit to this community for its willingness to put the region’s future over its past—or even its present—and in the process give serious momentum to addressing the Race to Equity report’s well-documented racial disparities? Or was this decision simply not the big deal I made it out to be? I’m leaning to the former, and here’s why.

This proposal had a lot of elements to it, and most of them could be argued. There was the fiscal element; Madison College’s budget is not as stable as any of us would like and projected shortfalls need to be addressed. There were certainly fond and also nostalgic sentiments about maintaining the original, what we used to know as MATC, building downtown. There were those who felt the college had an ethical, if not legal, obligation to keep a presence downtown. And there were differences of opinion about how the college determined what courses and services were best suited to the various campuses the college runs, including the West and Commercial Avenue locations.

But the element that concerned me the most was the racially tinged motivation for growing the college’s presence on the south side, legitimate as it was. I feared that asking for more time to study the long-term needs of the college and the various geographic and financial and transportation issues would be interpreted as still more talk and no action in addressing the equity gaps. That didn’t happen for multiple reasons.

First, Daniels was masterful in leading the community and the college board through the entire process. While there were legitimate disagreements with some of his answers, he was in fact able to answer every question.

Second, opponents of leaving downtown were always supportive of an expanded presence in south Madison. Faculty in particular, while making a strong case for continuing to operate the so-called DTEC, the Downtown Education Center, on North Carroll Street, were equally passionate about serving the students and populations that were cited as the reason to build a south Madison campus. Their passion for Madison College and its mission was truly impressive and inspirational.

And finally, leaders of color would not let this issue be divisive. While unanimous in their desire to grow Madison College’s presence in an area more densely populated by people of color, they never painted opponents in racial tones. That, and what I am now believing is a Madison more determined to address equity disparities, resulted in a community that—in a break with stereotype if not actual tradition—chose to look to the future over the past and the present.

If that’s true, Madison College has given this community a remarkable gift. Not only will it be a more inclusive community in terms of the aspirations of all of its members, but it will be a community that finally is willing to take a few risks to achieve that goal.

The board has some time to tweak and refine how all of this moves forward but it starts from a position of strength. And Madison College will have earned some new and well-deserved respect.

SIDE NOTES

Get well soon
I sure hope Community Pharmacy doesn’t close its doors. It has been a “resource for accessible, alternative, holistic health options with an emphasis on putting customers before profits” for every one of the 42 years I’ve been living here. It’s exactly what we need to keep downtown as we struggle through the evolution of our retail sector.

Work it out
A new report finds nearly one in eight employees left their state jobs last year. We certainly can’t be surprised. Small-government Republicans have made state employment less appealing and at the same time created a toxic image of state workers. Service to the citizens of this state is a noble calling. We’d better get back to honoring it as such before we lose those services all together.

Untold toll
One of the speakers at a recent forum on Awakened Consciousness and the Evolution of Business at Promega identified mass incarceration in the U.S. as one of the two or three biggest challenges to the future wellbeing of our world. Meanwhile, an Annie E. Casey Foundation report found nearly 90,000 Wisconsin kids had a parent in prison. I don’t think many of us have actually understood we are sacrificing children to keep people locked up. We must.


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