Recent University of Wisconsin-Madison grads Banke Ogini and Hanna Barton, both former throwers on the UW track and field team, recently published an open letter to UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez and the UW Athletic Board calling for a deliberate process to address systemic racism.
They say about 450 current and former Badger athletes signed the letter, and nearly 1,900 people had signed an online petition version at Change.org as of Wednesday evening.
“The systemic racism that plagues Black and Brown Americans is utterly unacceptable, least of which is the disproportional impact of police violence on people of color,” the letter reads in part. “As long as white people and organizations continue to benefit from, and turn a blind eye to, our current unjust systems, institutions like UW Athletics will be complicit in the issues troubling our local communities. And we know, as leaders in our state, and in our great nation, that we, Wisconsin, are better than that.”
Alvarez and several other UW administrators have issued statements in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, and subsequent unrest and protests. But the athletes want university officials “to go a step further.”
“As Wisconsin student-athletes, we believe that Wisconsin Athletics needs to actively work to dismantle racism within our athletic community and greater nation,” the wrote. “This must start within ourselves and our own actions, but cannot stop there. Listening to the Black community is imperative, yet it is now on the larger Wisconsin Athletics community to actively address the specific concerns raised and meaningfully work towards the profound change that is desperately needed.”
More specifically, the letter calls on the athletic department to hire a consultant to assess diversity and inclusion practices, as well as “Look at how many staff of color exist in the entire staff directory, especially at the senior admin level, and review hiring practices to take corrective actions,” and “Publicly release a diversity and inclusion report each year outlining the specific actions UW Athletics has taken to increase representation, support student athletes and staff of color (and) engage fans of color.”
The letter does not name specific incidents of racism in the athletic department, but the university as a whole has had its share of incidents in recent years, as well as longstanding issues.
In a response issued Wednesday afternoon, Alvarez wrote, “I would like to begin by saying that BLACK LIVES MATTER. To me. To our coaches. To our staff.”
Alvarez cited some actions that have already been taken, including the addition of a director of diversion and inclusion in 2016 — a position currently held by Sheridan Blanford — and the formation of the Equity Diversity Council.
But, Alvarez acknowledged, that’s not enough.
“As we all know, however, we need to turn our strategic plans into strategic actions,” he wrote. “Change will come when each of us looks within ourselves and decides to act. I ask our current and former student-athletes, as well as our coaches, staff and community members, to hold each other – and our department – accountable for creating change.”