Thoughts on today’s campus anti-racism protest

Students, faculty, staff and other supporters gather in front of Bascom Hall for a protest against racism on April 21, 2016. (Photo by Bryce Richter)
Students, faculty, staff and other supporters gather in front of Bascom Hall for a protest against racism on April 21, 2016. (Photo by Bryce Richter)

On April 19, the university received a set of student demands related to last week’s arrest by UWPD of a student suspected in a series of graffiti incidents around campus.

As part of the request, students have asked for criminal charges against the student to be dropped; for the resignation of university officials involved in this incident; and for the Dean of Students to forgo its student conduct process. In addition, the list requests that the university return any of the student’s personal property being held as evidence and seeks community control or oversight over the UWPD. (See the full document)

This has been a difficult and exhausting semester for our communities of color and allies as our entire campus copes with a series of hate and bias incidents and conversations about our racial climate.

As I have said repeatedly, UW–Madison is committed to fostering a campus environment where every student can learn, feels safe and valued and is able to thrive. We will continue to assist students who need counseling or other support as they deal with the impact that these incidents have had on the campus.

I know you are tired of reading emails and messages to this effect. I am personally frustrated that I can not create positive change more quickly.

As it relates to the recent arrest of the student, it is my belief that UW–Madison has taken appropriate steps to respond to our community’s concerns.

Chief Sue Riseling has apologized for UWPD entering the student’s classroom, commenced a review of departmental procedures and shared available footage of the incident to ensure transparency. The results of the investigation will be shared publicly, when available.

Embedded in the student demands are requests for actions that I do not believe are reasonable, or even lawful, for me to take. In fact, several of the demands seek to apply authority that the university does not have under state law or UW System policies and procedures.

I intend to continue to address campus climate and race issues through the series of concrete steps that I outlined earlier this semester. We have not sat idly by as these problems have grown more difficult.

We are implementing our Diversity Framework and addressing broader climate issues by adding mental health counseling, exploring campus cultural center models, creating additional cultural competency training and by soliciting proposals from our UW community that can have an impact on our campus climate.

I also want to note here that UWPD has been an innovative and forward-looking agency, most notably through Chief Riseling’s leadership in creating model use of force guidelines and the adoption of body cameras.

We will continue to engage with our community, on campus and off. We are meeting with Madison and Dane County stakeholders at the Urban League, the NAACP and Black Leadership Council, as well as our student, faculty and staff leaders.

It is imperative that we continue the dialogue that has started within our campus community. In times of crisis and heighted tension, we will only progress if we all work together to do a better job of making all students feel welcome at UW–Madison.

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