A promotional video for the University of Wisconsin’s Homecoming festivities has sparked backlash this week, as it failed to include any students of color while touting UW as “home” — even though the video’s producers shot footage featuring students of color.
— 👑 Payton 👑 (@payton_renee_) September 30, 2019
The 98-second video, posted on social media Sunday evening and deleted Monday, features 25 shots of students around campus engaged in a variety of activities such as singing, biking, dancing, jumping from the Union Terrace into Lake Mendota, and giving a campus tour. The theme is “Home is where WI are.” All the students shown appear to be white.
Compounding the anger among Black and other nonwhite students on campus is that the student-run Homecoming Committee reached out to the Epsilon Delta chapter of the Black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, invited their participation, shot footage of Black students, and ultimately cut those students out of the final video, according to social media posts by chapter member Payton Wade.
“The Epsilon Delta Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. was asked to participate in this video and explain what we thought ‘home is’ here at UW-Madison,” Wade wrote in a Facebook post a few hours after the video was posted. “Not only did we tell them what we thought home was but we also took hours out of our day to film as well and were told we would be in the video and notified when it was completed. As you can see we were not featured in the video as we were told, but not only were we not featured no Black students were featured…”
“That’s the most telling part of the situation because it speaks to the fact that somebody on the committee thought that it would be important to include people of color, but then when the final cut came around (did not) include them in the video,” said Jared Biddle, President of the UW Black Student Union. “I think at some point, regardless of what their intention was, what the video meant to people on campus was more harmful than what their original intent could have been. Ignorance in this scenario does not make sense. Especially when the committee reached out (to students of color) begin with, they knew that they needed to include (diversity). And then for some reason all of a sudden they decided not to do that. And that’s really unacceptable.”
Senior fashion design student Jessica Clark reached out to a number of students, professors, university administrators and community leaders by email early Monday morning expressing her feelings on the video after seeing it late Sunday.
“I think my initial reaction was wow, that hurts,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “ And then secondly would be, I’m not surprised. Students of color have become used to instances like that not only on this campus, but in our society. Being a person of color, I was like, oh, you know, that’s just another thing that happens. But then just sitting with myself and talking to my peers about it, I was very uncomfortable with seeing the video and just walking away from it. I did want there to be action. I did want the video to be taken down. But furthermore I also wanted to see other actions, in the students and the people of color community and pairing with the university officials to really start to navigate a way forward.”
“They made a conscious decision to not have any people of color even though they had the footage to begin with,” said senior architecture student Hayley Pendergast. “So I think whoever made the video, this was definitely a conscious decision of theirs … I think the message that at least I received from that video, was they were talking about Wisconsin being home to all these people, but if you’re not going to include people who look like me or any person of color, then clearly you don’t want (the University of Wisconsin) to be our home. You don’t consider it to be a home to us. And that’s a clear message that you don’t want us here.”
The homecoming committee took the video down from its social accounts Monday and issued an apology, “Unfortunately, not all the video images produced were included in the final product, including those of students from under represented populations. We regret omitting those images and we recognized that, by doing so, we unintentionally caused hurt to members of our campus community.”
The University also issued a statement.
“We know that, both historically and today, students of color and other under-represented groups do not feel as welcome on our campus as majority students,” it reads in part. “As a community, we must commit to and invest in ways to change this. One important way is to ensure active participation and authentic involvement by Badgers of many different identities in all aspects of campus life….We, too, are sorry for the pain this has caused. We also understand the need for action on these issues and will be engaging with students about the work that we need to do as a campus community.”
The Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association (WFAA) manages many of the Homecoming activities but does not have editorial control over the content produced by the student-run Homecoming committee, a WFAA representative said. It is unclear whether any WFAA staff saw or approved the video before it was posted.
Madison365 is contracted by WFAA to produce Badger Vibes, a newsletter highlighting students and alumni of color.
“I know that UW Madison does at least try” to be inclusive and equitable, Pendergast said. “We are all sick of them trying. Because trying it is not enough, but they do try to talk about diversity even around campus. So it was a little confusing to me because we’ve been hearing that these diversity initiatives that they’ve been taking, but they couldn’t even include us in the homecoming video. It seems like a small thing to others maybe, but even on a micro level it’s a big deal.”
“I think for what it was, an apology is great,” Clark said. “They may have genuinely been sincere in their apology. But I think that maybe those should be thoughts that take place before something like that is even produced.”
Pendergast said any content produced by the university or student organizations should be viewed through a racial equity lens before being released.
“I feel like they always apologize after people have pointed out what they’ve done wrong, but there really needs to be an initiative to intervene in every single thing that they release,” Pendergast said. “Because by releasing what they did, they’re sending a clear message to their people of color on campus and how we are not valued here. But frankly, I don’t think that an apology is enough, and I think that they need to make a statement and a promise that they’ll actually take action, real action that will actually make a change.”
“It’s great that they apologize, but that really doesn’t hold a whole lot of weight and doesn’t really mean anything because we’re waiting for action to be taken,” Biddle said.
Clark said some students have been discussing protest actions surrounding next week’s Homecoming festivities, but no firm plans have yet been made. Homecoming Week runs October 6-12, culminating in the Badger football team’s home game against Michigan State.