Kingsley Reigne Pissang was sitting with her family during the UW-Madison Homecoming game. Her family had traveled from Michigan for the game and in passing, Pissang mentioned that she helped make a video that would be showing during half-time.
“They asked me if I was in it and I said ‘no,’” she said. “I didn’t tell them I was the voiceover and so when it goes through, I actually recorded my aunt and mom who were sitting right next to me. It was really cool watching them see just a glimpse of what I on campus. It was probably my favorite part of the whole weekend.”
That half-time show video, also known as “We are UW,” was a response to the original Homecoming promotional video that sparked a backlash from students of color at UW. The original video featured 25 shots of students around campus using the theme “Home is where WI are.” Although the student-run Homecoming Committee reached out to and filmed the Epsilon Delta chapter of the Black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, they were ultimately excluded from the final cut. All of the students in the video appeared to be white.
Pissang, who is currently the president of AKA, worked with other frustrated student leaders, including AKA Secretary Payton Wade to “take initiative and make sure something like this wouldn’t be swept underneath the rug,” Pissanng said.
Wade took to social media to voice her concerns and soon, those student leaders formed a group known as the Student Inclusion Coalition (SIC) to tackle issues students from marginalized communities were facing at UW. Specifically, SIC is a student-led organization that mobilizes, gives marginalized students space for their voices to be heard and holds UW accountable for student-involved issues.
Their first action was making that Homecoming response video. According to SIC, the Homecoming committee gave them their airtime during the game and once SIC was notified of this, they got to work on making the actual video.
At #UWMadison, we learn lessons best when we learn them together.
This Homecoming, we’re partnering with the Student Inclusion Coalition to ensure everyone is seen, heard and valued in our community.
We are all UW. pic.twitter.com/RhKD7UIlgi
— UW-Madison (@UWMadison) October 12, 2019
In the span of about three days, SIC produced the minute-long clip. Pissang, who is the co-chair for communications, took the role of scripting, directing, narrating, casting and then producing the video. She did this along with help from a journalism professor and a production manager from UW Communications.
“It was a short turnaround for just being a student-led project,” Pissang said. “The video itself came out very well considering what we were working with and the guidelines we had to meet. I’m proud.”
While SIC did form in part to create a response video, the members knew that this organization was a long time coming and served a necessary function.
“We realized that there was a greater need for mobilizing marginalized communities at UW,” said Nyla Mathis, SIC’s co-chair for accountability.
“It wasn’t just to put out a video,” Pissang said. “It’s to serve as a support and be a catalyst for when something goes wrong on campus.”
With the video created, SIC then turned its attention to drafting a formal list of demands for the UW administration. This list includes general guidelines for ensuring satisfaction from marginalized communities. Inspiration for the list came from the list of 13 demands that came during the Black Student Strike in 1969, as well as a list of demands that came in 2016 after a black student was arrested in class over anti-racism graffiti.
“We’re looking at all that came before us and what students need today,” said Jared Biddle, SIC co-chair for accountability and president of the Black Student Union. “We plan to show the demands to the community and then we plan to make sure they are met by UW.”
“We’re showing them to the community first because we want to make sure their voices are heard in these demands and that they support us,” Mathis added.
SIC did not go into further details on the list of demands, and currently, it is unclear when the list will be published.
SIC is focused on meeting with the administration to address issues across all marginalized communities. Because of that, it is in a unique position to be a leading organization, specific to catering to all communities in a way that other organizations may not be able to.
“All student organizations have the same missions and goals,” Biddle said. “It’s just that we have connections with the administration. We have the organizational capacity. With everyone trying to do something, the leadership sector wasn’t in place and because we all know each other and have this platform, we can do the necessary work with the administration.”
“[SIC] is going to take out the middle steps of organizing and coming together,” Pissang said. “But it doesn’t take away from other student orgs that already exist.”
Because SIC plans to work with the administration making sure the demands are met, should they potentially be met with pushback on some of the demands, Mathis hopes supporters will back them up.
“It’s hard to silence everyone,” she said. “With enough demonstrations and mobilizing it will show that we’re not backing down.”
“We all knew what we were getting into,” Biddle added. “If we were worried about whether people would like us or not we wouldn’t have gotten into this. This is necessary work and we’re making sure whatever information we get goes into the community, and then into the press.”
SIC comes at an interesting time, considering the upcoming elections and the heightening racial tensions that have persisted UW for years.
“These incidents that keep happening highlight a bigger picture at UW,” Wade, co-chair for communications, said.
“With the elections coming up, I don’t see racial tensions smoothing out because people’s true colors come out during this time,” Mathis added.
Though SIC is proud of the achievements they’ve made, particularly “We are UW,” they expressed some reservations about UW’s use of the video as promotional material.
“I have mixed feelings because I think the way the video is being used wasn’t our intention but we have to play by [UW’s] rules,” Biddle said.
“The video [UW] chose was not our first choice,” Wade added. “This video is not part of their ‘I am UW’ movement. This is different. We’re letting them know that we are here and though we are UW, we can’t ignore the other things we go through on campus.”
“This video is a small victory, but it’s part of a larger picture. People aren’t going to remember a one-minute video, but they will remember our demands that UW meets and the change of culture that starts to happen as a result of SIC,” Pissang said.
Ultimately, SIC hopes to enact a kind of change that has not been seen at UW yet.
“We hope that marginalized communities can finally feel at home at UW,” Mathis said. “That they can finally feel comfortable and that they don’t have to worry about things the majority doesn’t worry about.”
“UW needs to change the way it’s set up structurally,” Wade said. “We’ve been dealing with this for years now and it needs to change.”
This story has been updated to reflect the correct name of the organization involved. A previous version identified it as the Student Inclusion Committee when the correct title is the Student Inclusion Coalition.