Our Wisconsin is a program for incoming students that started last fall as an effort to build understanding and community on campus in the areas of culture, identity, diversity and inclusion. I am happy to tell you that the pilot sessions we ran this past fall were successful, based on the evaluation results we received. We’re moving forward with changes that will allow the program to reach even more incoming Badgers.

The Division of Student Life created Our Wisconsin as a two-part, in-person inclusion workshop for new students. The workshops, led by teams of student, staff, and faculty facilitators, featured structured dialogue, activities, and reflection. About 1,000 undergraduate students – from throughout Sellery, Cole, Leopold, and Sullivan residence halls – participated in the fall workshops.

A survey compared the participants to non-participants living in the residence halls. The results indicate that 80 percent of participants reported that more students on campus would benefit from participating in the workshop, and that 75 percent of participants found the workshops to be somewhat to extremely informative. Compared to those who did not participate in the program, participants showed greater interest and openness to conversations and interactions with diverse groups.

We want to expand on that success. This summer, the Our Wisconsin curriculum will be introduced at Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration (SOAR), which means that 99 percent of incoming students will be introduced to Our Wisconsin key concepts before classes begin. An Our Wisconsin workshop will be held in residence halls within the first couple weeks of the semester, with all freshmen encouraged to participate.

As we introduce new students to Our Wisconsin, we are introducing them to their new home at UW and in the dorms and to the expectations we have for our community. As I have said many times in this space, a top priority of mine is that we have a campus where all students feel welcomed, valued, and supported.

Our Wisconsin is not mandatory, but participation is an expectation. We expect participation at SOAR to be close to 100 percent, and very high participation in the workshop in the residence halls – similar to participation levels among targeted students during the pilot program last year. The rollout of Our Wisconsin is like two other highly successful campus orientation programs, AlcoholEdu and Tonight.

Our Wisconsin invites students to “lead the Badger Way” by fostering an environment of inclusion and respect. Thank you to all the students who participated this past fall and who responded to the survey. And thanks to all the students, faculty and staff who have helped shape the program. I look forward to even more students having an opportunity to reflect on their own identity and on the opportunities and challenges they face as they enter a much more heterogeneous community here at UW.

If you are interested in becoming a facilitator, please visit the Become a Badger Way facilitator page at the Our Wisconsin site.