As Homecoming week 2020 comes to a close, the Student Inclusion Coalition; Student Affairs; Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement (DDEEA); as well as the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA) would like to share the progress that has been made to address concerns related to campus climate, diversity, and inclusion.
UW–Madison learned a hard lesson in 2019, when a Homecoming student promotional video produced by the WAA student Homecoming Committee excluded a group of students of color who participated in the filming. The video editing process exacerbated the emotional toll of some students who express feelings of isolation, exclusion, and marginalization on campus. The omission was symbolic of the daily challenges and negative experiences of Black and Brown students on campus, which the chancellor acknowledged in a message to the campus community.
The response to the published Homecoming video birthed a newly formed student advocacy group, the Student Inclusion Coalition (SIC). A collective of student leaders and concerned students charted a course to build solidarity among multicultural student groups and to identify ways improve the experiences of students of color by addressing concerns presented to UW–Madison administration as far back as 1969, a time of Black student activism uprising.
With the goal of advocacy for social, academic, and emotional wellness of marginalized students at UW–Madison, SIC promoted five areas of change toward repairing and restoring dignity, pride, and inclusion among diverse student groups. The group amplified its position through campus and social media campaigns to advance institutional commitment toward greater student diversity and actionable steps toward real change.
“Establishing a home where marginalized students can feel safe, valued and included — a place where we can be our most authentic selves is SIC’s ultimate goal,” says Nyla Mathis, one of SIC’s student founders and leaders. “The university is making great progress, but a marathon still lies ahead to ensure that the history and contribution of Black and Brown students is not lost, taken for granted or forgotten.”
Over the last 12 months, SIC representatives and university administrators from Student Affairs, DDEEA, and WAA engaged in collective action to address SIC’s priorities.
SIC’s priorities were clear:
- Publicly recognize the sacrifice of past students of color in addressing systemic racism and oppression on campus.
- Recognize the educational value of marginalized identity-based student affinity groups in supporting student engagement, belonging, and retention.
- Improve the support system for marginalized students on campus.
- Restructure the student Homecoming Committee to ensure broader and more authentic engagement for marginalized groups on campus.
- Create a coordinated infrastructure to respond to acts of structural oppression.
Senior leaders from Student Affairs, DDEEA, and WAA formed working groups with student task force members to address each priority. The groups met throughout the year to identify areas of partnership as well as some ideas that needed to be refined or faced larger roadblocks.
“This was really a team effort among our administrators and students,” says Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor, who alongside Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Gabe Javier and DDEEA, continues to work with SIC leaders. “Through the many hardships and heartaches of this year, the most important thing has been that we continue to move toward the same goal — creating a place where all students feel welcome, supported, and safe.”
Together, the working groups made some important advancements:
- A delegation of diverse student communities served in a consultative role with WAA to plan student Homecoming 2020. This will become integrated into the Homecoming Committee structure going forward as it moves from WAA to Student Affairs in 2021.
- The Multicultural Student Center received an additional $50,000 this year to use for student organization grants and to increase funding for cultural heritage month celebrations.
- Student Affairs established the new Office of Inclusion Education and made the Our Wisconsin program on diversity and inclusion a requirement for all new undergraduate and transfer students.
- UW–Madison is now in the planning stages to design and raise funds for a campus landmark to honor the historically African American fraternities and sororities affiliated with UW’s National Pan-Hellenic Council.
- The College of Letters and Sciences will formally recognize the contributions of student activism that led to the establishment of the Department of Afro-American Studies, which is now celebrating its 50th anniversary.
“We have made progress since Homecoming 2019 but are aware there is still much more work to do,” says WAA Executive Director Sarah Schutt. “We believe the changes in 2020 programming, staff and student training in diversity and unconscious bias, as well as the 2021 plans for a new structure and oversight of the student homecoming committee will lead to a more inclusive campus experience.”
Work continues this fall on several initiatives. Reesor and DDEEA Interim Chief Diversity Officer Cheryl Gittens have reached out and continue to be in regular communication with individual students and student groups including SIC, the Wisconsin Black Student Union, and others who have expressed need for further action.
“Our work with SIC this year really demonstrated the necessity and power of collaboration in creating change,” says Gittens. “It remains important for us to continue this shared work with SIC and with others dedicated to making UW a place where future generations feel welcome and included.”
Student Inclusion Coalition
Lori Reesor, Ph.D., Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
Cheryl Gittens, Ed.D., Interim Deputy Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion & Chief Diversity Officer
Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement
Sarah Schutt, Executive Director
Wisconsin Alumni Association