Across the country and around the world, this summer has, sadly, been filled with news of tragedy and violence, starting with killings in Orlando, Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas. I suspect all of us have been horrified at one time or another as we’ve turned on the television.
This past weekend, there was significant unrest in Milwaukee, the largest and most diverse city in our state, as well as home to many of our students. And those who have stayed in Madison over the summer know that we’ve had our own series of controversial incidents and protests.
All of these events are likely to be on people’s minds as they return to campus to prepare for the semester ahead. Appropriately, one of this year’s themes– and the subject of our Go Big Read book, Evicted, is “what is community?”
At this moment, it seems particularly important to ask: How is community forged? How do communities like Milwaukee or Madison come together in the wake of violence and tragedy? How does UW-Madison do a better job engaging with our local community and our state? And how do we grapple with the changes we need to implement here on campus?
Many of us on campus have been busy over the summer, following through on our commitments to make the university more welcoming for all. We are moving forward on multiple initiatives, including the launch of a new pilot program for incoming freshmen on community building, called Our Wisconsin.
Within the next few weeks, I and others will share information about these different efforts, including the ways in which we are taking up the suggestions that came in last spring through our community proposal process. We received more than 100 ideas for improving campus climate, inspiring new programs and giving us new ways to think about expanding and modifying current efforts.
Over the summer I’ve also been holding conversations with a variety of community leaders about our community and our campus. I have invited a number of these individuals to be part of a Community Advisory Cabinet to UW Leadership.
It must be a central part of our education efforts here at UW-Madison to ensure that our students, when they graduate, are comfortable working and living in more diverse communities. The jobs of the 21st century and the employers who hire our students demand these skills.
Following this difficult summer, I suspect that many of us — faculty, staff, and students — will find it helpful to talk about what we’ve been watching and experiencing as these events have unfolded. I know that I have felt deep concern and even despair. I want to share those reactions with colleagues and friends and talk about how we move forward and find hope.
I plan to invite all the units around campus to invite their members into this conversation, if they wish to participate. I’ll be sending out more information right before the semester about how we can do this across campus.
It is our responsibility as a university community to try and understand the world around us…and to work to create a community here that reflects our values.