“You f**k with Bucky, you f**k with us!!! You n**er bitch!” is the sound of violence at UW-Madison. It is the sound of white supremacy at a “liberal” institution.
Go to the home page of UW-Madison … there is no mention of this, or any past hate crimes. Only smiling students that are living “the UW experience.” For many, this is the UW experience, it is #TheRealUW. You can put that hashtag in Facebook or Twitter and see the life students at UW are living.
Our chancellor has said, in an open letter after another hate crime on UW-Madison’s campus, that “we’ve seen a troubling string of incidents.” Let me stop there before continuing: these strings of “incidents” are the daily, lived reality of students of color on UW-Madison campus. These strings of “incidents” have no clear beginning or end. When does a string of “incidents” become what the university actually is? A hostile and hateful environment for students of color.
These aren’t merely incidents, these are violent and hateful acts of aggression towards students of color letting them know that they are not safe; they are not welcome on this campus.
Our chancellor supports “diversity” and a climate of “cultural competency.” In her letter, she laid out several initiatives, one is a “pilot program of cultural competency and community building activities” as she says this is important because she “hear(s) from employers that they want to hire people who are comfortable working in diverse environments.”
Because this is the end goal of diversity and cultural competency: so employers can continue with their hiring practices of bringing on mostly white people, as better “culture fits,” that can go on to play better in the global market. Because we can’t have cultural competency without some sort of benefit for white students … am I right? I mean the horror of attempting to change the biased minds of white students just because that’s the right thing to do and because it makes UW safer and more welcoming to students of color.
Or how about the acceleration of “hiring of additional student support counseling services.” This is something that, for years and years, students of color have been begging for. The question is: why just now? Why it is only in the face of visible and nasty hate crimes does this have to happen? And are these professionals going to be people that look like them? Will they be people that fully understand the struggle of being a student of color at a predominately white institution?
These are the only two, non-information-gathering, conversational initiatives that are going on. So with that said, how are these initiatives going to keep students safe?
Students are sick of conversations. Year after year, UW-Madison only offers us conversations. Conversations that are not mandatory for all students. Conversations that are usually only held among students and staff of color and people that make up the university’s “diversity” initiatives.
UW-Madison student Devon Hamilton had this to say in response:
“I often question the authenticity behind the letters Chancellor Blank and other administrators/faculty release after imminent acts of bigotry and hate on this campus. When student organizations of color were being defunded and disenfranchised, we received no response from their offices. There was no official press release, cover story, or feature on the UW homepage when hundreds of students of color and allies demonstrated that our [Black] lives mattered in a Die-In. Their own diversity plan, in all actuality, is a list of recommendations, not requirements, with no backbone and redundancies in their means of accountability. This sudden piqued interest is suspicious at best, and dishonest in intention…. It wasn’t until Mizzou that the faces of dedicated organizers and black men and women suddenly appeared on the UW homepage, like some sort of testament to the University’s hard work.”
Students at UW-Madison have been pressuring the Board of Regents for action since last fall and students at UW-Madison have been pressuring the administration for years, with the first major demonstration in years in December 2014 saying that things need to change now. How are they to believe any initiative put forward is more than just a PR move for UW to save face? To put a black person on its homepage to show its “diversity” when they are under attack. How does that support them? How does that make them safe?
UW-Madison student Donale Richards lays out his thoughts quite clearly in thinking that the “recognition that we created this pressure is completely left out of the e-mail and undermines our efforts. Seeing that we are students, we do not have extra time to work out a proposal that is not guaranteed to go through as we have witnessed in the past. If Chancellor Blank wants our members to be included, she needs to first and foremost apologize for the lack of recognition and assuming that the university has been “listening” to students. Second, she must confirm and guarantee that if we submit a proposal, she must honor it. Third, #TheRealUW started from one our members and overnight, it took off. The university has no affiliation with the hashtag except that they have an easier job to find stories. As students, our efforts should be paid for. She should first establish paid positions so students have an incentive to be a part of the proposal process.”
Let me repeat and highlight that last part: “As students, our efforts should be paid for. She should first establish paid positions so students have an incentive to be a part of the proposal process.” Far too often, students of color, especially black people, are asked to provide services of how to make things better for free. We are expected to teach and tell white people, to teach and tell white institutions on how to be better for free. To consult, for free. This is a continuation of the robbery of labor of black Americans. I applaud Donale for this demand.
This is the university that “Good White People” built, in a city full of “good white people.” A university that has a history of racism on its campus, where white chancellors see it as a climate problem, not a safety problem; as if all we have to do is lower the CO2 levels and we fix it. Where I don’t think they see that this climate is an everyday lived experiences of students of color. All I have seen is white chancellors seeing these acts as one of individual actions, not one of wider systemic problems.
“Students are sick of conversations. Year after year, UW-Madison only offers us conversations. Conversations that are not mandatory for all students. Conversations that are usually only held among students and staff of color and people that make up the university’s ‘diversity’ initiatives.”
This is a world where white students can live in their own safety, not having to be a representation of their entire race in a classroom. One where they can choose an elective class to study something “diverse.” One where a university has diversity initiatives , but can’t even define what a diverse UW actually looks like, outside of diversity initiatives that lack any clear actionable steps and goals. This is a world where diversity is a PR issue, not an issues of student safety, and of an honest and safe learning environment for students of color.
The sad thing is, is that UW-Madison and Madison, are just a reflection of this country. Where diversity is usually something that must also have a clear benefit for white students. One where the default are white spaces and any person of color in that space doesn’t really belong. They are visitors, they are “ethnic,” “colored,” “diverse,” because white is the default.
UW, the problem is that you keep holding conversations; the problem is that you refuse to say there is no place for hate on this campus. The problem is that you don’t hold your professors or instructors accountable for creating a climate in their classrooms where students can learn. The problem is that your reactions to hate on this campus are just as soft as your reactions to sexual violence. No wonder you’re under investigation for that . The problem is that you don’t go out and find ways to change or remove individuals on campus that are creating a hostile environment. You prefer that any action that isn’t a PR move is done out of the spotlight.
The problem is that it’s all PR: You see this in terms of numbers and dollars, not human lives that are here to learn. Young people who have overcome tremendous obstacles to try to make themselves a life, to learn, to grow, to give back to the world. Many of these students have worked after school every day since middle school, have worked every summer since middle and high school, studied when others were on summer vacation, and have worked while others were getting turnt. They’ve worked so hard to come to this university, and to stay at this university. A university that brands itself as different and better, with world class “diversity” initiatives.
So, do better UW, do better. Yes, work with the students, but acknowledge the work they are doing, pay them to help you create a better university, publicly acknowledge that there are a lot of problems on campus, publicly acknowledge the students doing work to make it better, acknowledge these young leaders, just as your chief diversity officer has done. In a very recent video, he said enough is enough. But there must be more than words.
He’s right. Enough is enough. These are brilliant students and they will make change here and elsewhere. But if you don’t support them and take action in making change here, they will make it elsewhere.