University of Wisconsin–Madison

An Open Letter to the UW-Madison Community

We’ve seen a troubling string of incidents reported through our hate & bias reporting system that have directly affected and hurt members of our diverse community.

In a larger sense, these incidents affect each and every one of us and reveal that we have not made as much progress as needed on building an inclusive and welcoming community.

Let me take a moment upfront to say unequivocally that the behaviors displayed in these cases are completely unacceptable. They hurt fellow Badgers, make our campus a less welcoming place and do not reflect our shared community values.

Students who engage in hate or bias acts that violate our codes of conduct will be disciplined. When we learn of these incidents, we investigate, take disciplinary action against those students who have engaged in inappropriate conduct and provide support for the victims.

Responding to each incident is important, but the harder work is addressing campus climate systematically. This is work we all need to do, together.

We’ve made some steps towards this with the implementation of the campus Diversity Framework, but today, I’m announcing several expanded or accelerated initiatives to which I intend to devote time and resources. They include:

  • The roll out of a pilot program of cultural competency and community building activities aimed at all new students starting in Fall 2016. Cultural competency is important for our graduates who will work in a global economy. Increasingly, we hear from employers that they want to hire people who are comfortable working in diverse environments.
  • I’m accelerating the hiring of additional student support counseling services at UHS. ASM has created a plan to increase the number of mental health providers over the next two fiscal years. This plan, and a related segregated fee increase, is still subject to Board of Regents approval. In support of this student-led plan, I’m going to commit resources out of the Chancellor’s Office to provide short-term funding for two dedicated positions for student mental health issues related to diversity and climate.  This will allow us to hire before permanent funds become available.  Recruitment for these positions will begin immediately.
  • We intend to improve our campus cultural center model by investigating how peer institutions are supporting their students. We have funded student visits to centers around the Big Ten. I expect to receive recommendations by the end of the semester.
  • After Spring Break, we will hold a university-wide session to share information on our processes for reporting incidents along with the student conduct process.

Most importantly, we need our entire community to be engaged in improving campus climate, including our student organizations.

To that end, I am seeking a partnership with students, faculty and staff who have ideas and initiatives that address cultural and behavioral change.

I’d explicitly like to see proposals that are co-generated between multiple groups representing the widest subsection of our campus population. I’ve committed funding to test and scale promising approaches in the next academic year.

I’m asking anyone who is interested in participating to reach out to us at chancellor@wisc.edu to receive more information about crafting a proposal.

It is very clear that we still have much work to do in our community. I am committed to increasing the urgency with which we approach issues of campus climate. I look forward to receiving your thoughts and feedback.