This article was originally published on January 9, 2020 on “Blank’s Slate,” — a blog by UW–Madison Chancellor Becky Blank. It has been repurposed and edited for this audience.
Welcome to 2020. A new year offers an opportunity to create new resolutions and renew commitments we’ve made in the past. Last fall, a teachable moment around the student-produced Homecoming video reminded us that we must remain diligent to make diversity and inclusion a conscious decision in order to create a welcoming campus climate. At UW–Madison we are fortunate that our students, faculty and staff are rarely afraid to speak out and keep us honest on our progress toward the goals we’ve set and the values we espouse.
In early January of this year, the New York Times covered the issues raised on the UW campus by the Homecoming video. We continue to acknowledge how much work we have to do on these issues and the pain and frustration the video has caused to our community. We are committed to improving the experiences of all our students, especially our students from underrepresented groups. But we would be less than honest if we didn’t share our level of disappointment with this most recent coverage, which lacked context and nuance.
The story overlooked both the ways we have responded to the video and made no mention of the multiple efforts we have undertaken in recent years to make campus a more welcoming and diverse place. It also did not recognize the fact that these issues are prevalent on campuses across the country and that UW is not alone in struggling with the differential experiences of underrepresented students on campus and in our community.
We have made a significant commitment to diversifying our faculty and those efforts are bearing fruit as we hire more faculty of color in current and future cohorts. A successful new hiring program called targets of opportunity, or TOP, provides central campus funding to make it possible for departments to go after people they’d like to recruit who are from groups not well-represented within their discipline.
We expanded the number of cultural centers to support the needs of our underrepresented students and renovations are currently happening for those spaces in the Red Gym (to be ready by fall 2020). We continue to invest in the long-term success of cultural centers on campus as a place for underrepresented students to build affinity and community.
Efforts like #IamUW feature the many ways in which our students, faculty and staff share their passions and celebrate what it means to be a part of the Badger community. In similar fashion, we’re highlighting important alumni who have made significant contributions in their respective fields through a series called Why I Love UW. In our first installment we feature the story of Reverend Dr. Alex Gee Jr. and his family’s journey to 13 UW degrees (soon to be 14 when his daughter Lexi Gee completes her PhD.)
This past October we held the largest and most successful Annual Diversity Forum on campus in its 20-year history. Over 1,300 people participated in the forum, nearly double the 700 participants in the forum just four years ago. This event has continued to grow, meeting the professional development demands of our campus community and beyond.
But we recognize that we are a majority white campus in a majority white state. That means we have to make exceptional efforts to diversify our campus, to educate our students on how to prepare for a career in an increasingly global and diverse world, and to make sure our staff and faculty know how to teach and work in an inclusive environment.
It also means we need to do our part to help prepare underrepresented students in the K-12 schools to be successful in college. Our PEOPLE and Business Emerging Leaders programs are examples of UW–Madison programs designed to enrich high school students’ skills to prepare them for college. And we partner with other pre-college programs like Posse, bringing these students to our campus.
We recognize we have more work to do. Working towards greater diversity and inclusion is not something you finish. It’s an ongoing process … every time we take one step, we need to think about the next step after that.
And this is work that must engage the entire campus community. While those of us in leadership can make commitments that help move these issues forward, conversations, education, and change must happen at every level. This is one reason we asked all of our Schools and Colleges to develop and implement their own diversity and inclusion plans.
Diversity is a source of strength, making us a better community and preparing our students better for their post-college lives. We want all members of the UW–Madison community to feel welcome and supported on our campus.
As we look toward 2020 the leadership at UW is committed to continue making this issue a priority. We want the outcomes on this campus to measure up to our aspirations. We know we aren’t there yet. We hope that you will join us on that journey.
Rebecca Blank, Chancellor
Patrick Sims, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion