Study on the KKK: UW-Madison’s history has ‘pervasive culture of racial and religious bigotry’

UW responds with four proposals
Study on the KKK: UW-Madison’s history has ‘pervasive culture of racial and religious bigotry’

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is taking steps to improve inclusively and diversity in response to a new report outlining the Ku Klux Klan’s connection on campus.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced four proposals in answer to the study, which she commissioned last fall to review the KKK’s history on campus to find appropriate ways to respond to that history after violence in Charlottesville.

The report released Thursday notes “a pervasive culture of racial and religious bigotry, casual and unexamined in its prevalence, in which exclusion and indignity were routine, sanctioned in the institutions’ daily life, and unchallenged by its leaders.”

A study group looked into two student-run organizations that were broadly accepted around the early 1920s and took the KKK name. One was affiliated with the national white supremacist group Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and one was in a fraternity house with many well-known student leaders, including actor Fredric March and Porter Butts, the first director of the Wisconsin Union. Both have spaces there named in their honor.

The group considered renaming those spaces, but they decided before engaging in that discussion that the university should reinvest in institutional change, saying that UW-Madison’s “reckoning with this history … consist(s) of a great deal more than the purging of unpleasant reminders.”

Co-chairs of the study group, Dr. Floyd Rose and Dr. Stephen Kantrowitz, suggested a campus history project to give voice to those who have experienced prejudice on campus throughout the years, and a commitment to programs aimed at increasing diversity and inclusively on campus.

“Victims do not control the narrative, so as proposed to recover these accounts, these voices, is of great importance,” Rose said.

“As we got deeper into history, our conversation shifted away from the question of names and toward the question of culture on campus,” Kantrowitz said. “As we did that, we realized to focus on the name would be to suggest we could solve the problem by scrubbing away uncomfortable reminders. In fact, we need to confront and deal with the legacies of that era in a much more sustained and thoughtful way.”

Blank’s response to those suggestions resulted in four proposals.

The first would put about $1 million toward a museum-quality display project celebrating underrepresented groups who have endured prejudice on campus. A group this summer will plan this multi-year effort.

The next proposal will allow the ethnic studies divisions to hire four new faculty members.

A third proposal increases investment in programs recruiting scholars (faculty and undergraduates) from underrepresented groups, and the final proposal increases investment in the graduate Advanced Opportunity Fellowships program, which helps graduate students from those groups.

“One wants to think forward to the next 50 to 100 years to say, ‘What would they look back and hold us responsible for?'” Blank said “That is truly motivation to say we need to keep working to be a better place and a better community.”