Working on racial justice, equity and inclusion on campus

I last wrote to you in July outlining what our university is doing to confront and disrupt racism and other forms of systemic prejudice. This was in the wake of George Floyd’s death which horrified our nation.

Then, in August, we witnessed the shooting of Jacob Blake of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and again saw the outpouring of millions of voices demanding justice for those who are Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). Last week, we experienced this once again following the charging decision in the killing of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

I have heard from people who are feeling many things  – anger, sadness, frustration, determination or numbness. But it is what we do with our feelings, as we move forward together as a campus community, that will shape and define us. And so today, I want to update you on our work to change our campus community, making it more diverse and more welcoming for everyone.

Our work in this area is wide ranging and addresses many facets of equity, diversity and social justice. It includes both new initiatives and deeper investment in ongoing efforts. I want to be clear that the programs and initiatives I mention here, while significant, do not represent all the important work being done. It’s been heartening to see the many ways students, faculty and staff across our campus, at all levels, are using this historic moment to recommit to meaningful action.

Recruitment and Retention

Recruitment is a key part of our effort to improve the experiences of underrepresented students. This fall we welcomed 989 underrepresented domestic students of color, who identify as African-American, Hispanic/Latinx, American Indian, or Southeast Asian-American. That means historically underrepresented students make up 13.5% of our incoming class compared to 10.9% last year. This is a welcome step forward that we must continue to build on in future years.

Our $10 million fundraising initiative, in partnership with the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association is pursuing private funds that will provide us with resources to recruit and retain even more diverse students, faculty and staff, all in an effort to develop a more inclusive campus culture. We’re involved in a number of conversations with individuals who have expressed interest in supporting this initiative and I hope to be able to share good news about our progress later this fall.

The Target of Opportunity Program (TOP) continues to be a successful effort to hire faculty who will enhance a department’s quality and diversity. To date, the Office of the Provost has approved 70 recruitment proposals from colleges and school around campus, 32 faculty have been hired, and 30 have already started working on campus.  In the upcoming cycle, Target of Opportunity Program funding will also be available to support recruitment of post-doctoral fellowship candidates.   Through TOP and through regular hiring channels, we welcomed 11 new faculty this fall who identify as African American, 11 who identify as Latinx, 36 who identify as Asian/Asian American, 5 who identify as Native American and 2 who identify as multiracial.

The Exceptional Service Support Program acknowledges the service of faculty members from underrepresented groups who make time above and beyond what is usually expected to advise and support students. We expect as many as 10 faculty members will be awarded a course release each year under this program.

Identity and Inclusion

We created the new Office of Inclusion Education in the Division of Student Affairs to centralize and expand student-oriented diversity, inclusion and social justice education and training.

Our Wisconsin, our flagship inclusion education program, is now required for all first-year and transfer students and is being made available to schools, colleges and other campus units for broader use.

The Black Cultural Center ran a successful fund raising campaign on social media that led 269 donors to contribute $18,411 to student programming and initiatives.

The UW–Madison Athletic Department has unveiled its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan. The plan will establish a framework to build a diverse, inclusive culture among student athletes, staff, coaches, administration and campus and community partners. It also will provide programming and support for efforts related to diversity.

Professional Development and Research

Registration opened this week for the UW-Madison 2020 Diversity Forum,The Pandemic Effect: Exposing Racism and Inequities,” a virtual event on Oct. 27-28. It will explore contemporary issues in racial equity and social justice, including disparities in health care during COVID-19. The opening day keynote speaker will be Robin DiAngelo, author of the nationally acclaimed “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.” On Day two, the keynote will be presented by Austin Channing Brown, author of “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.”

New research funding from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (OVCRGE) will provide $1 million this academic year to support faculty research that helps us understand race in America, including public health impacts of racial, social economic and political inequalities. Lonnie Berger, associate vice chancellor for social sciences, will lead this initiative. More details will be announced this fall and the awards will be made in the spring.

In September, OVCRGE filled a multicultural initiatives manager position to strengthen graduate student recruitment and retention for all graduate programs. In this reimagined role, the manager will build on the work of the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Funding in the Graduate School to expand existing programs and create new initiatives focused on graduate student recruitment and retention.

Commitment to Campus Community

We continue to address the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on our students and employees. The Office of Student Financial Aid is asking students experiencing financial difficulty to to contact the office or meet with a financial aid advisor to discuss what emergency options may be available.  Since last March, we have awarded more than $10 million in additional financial aid.

Among employees, we have put robust health and safety protocols in place in all of our workplaces and have maintained an employee positive test rate of 1% or less for most of September. We have seen no evidence of infections spread inside classrooms or labs, which suggests our health protocols are working effectively.  We continue to offer accommodations, workplace flexibilities and leave options to employees.  

The UW South Madison Partnership has moved into expanded space at The Village on Park, more than quadrupling the size of this important community resource. Renovation of the office, event and instructional spaces was recently completed and will allow more community members, researchers and students to collaborate on projects, providing new opportunities for community partnerships in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea.

In June, the UW–Madison Police Department announced a Racial Equity Initiative. A core goal is to ensure that the department demonstrates its commitment to racial justice in policing in ways that are meaningful to members of the community, particularly those from marginalized groups. The plan will: solicit and collect feedback; review departmental policies and practices through a workgroup of external and internal stakeholders; share results of this review with the public; and install a long-term accountability mechanism that is transparent and easily accessible to the public.

The UW–Madison Public History Project continues its works to uncover and give voice to the histories of discrimination and resistance on campus. History Corps, comprised of graduate and undergraduate student researchers, spent more than 450 hours doing archival research completing 91 oral history interviews with students, faculty, alumni, and administrators. Throughout the next academic year, the project will virtually engage the campus community by participating in class visits, public presentations, and listening sessions.

The UW–Madison Diversity Inventory, a centralized online database of diversity programs, events, and services on campus, launched a new website to track our campus’s progress toward creating a more inclusive community.  Created following recommendations from the campus-wide Diversity Framework. the Diversity Inventory strives to increase awareness of existing resources, enhance coordination of activities among campus partners, and efficiently collect and report diversity-related data.

In addition to this work, much of which reaches across campus, every school and college is implementing their own diversity and inclusion initiatives within departments and other units.  I have said many times that changes in the UW culture will only occur when units throughout campus engage with these issues and think about the changes they can initiate.

I want to thank the many individuals who are championing these efforts. I know there is much more work to do; this past summer has created a willingness and commitment by many on our campus to engage more fully with these issues and we need to take advantage of this opportunity.  The goal is not just to talk about where we are and where we have been (although that is important) but to help imagine and implement changes that make this campus more diverse and welcoming for all.  I look forward to working with you.  Together, we have the power to make meaningful change.