Diversity Forum 2021

2021 Diversity Forum

Union South

Tue Nov. 2, 2021

8:50 a.m.


Good morning.  Thank you, Dr. Charleston, for that kind introduction and for the outstanding work you are doing as our Chief Diversity Officer.


Welcome to those of you here in person, as well as those joining online, and thank you for taking part in this year’s Diversity Forum.


This is one of very few campus events that bring together faculty, staff, and students from across our schools and colleges – and it’s the only one that focuses exclusively on diversity and inclusion.


Each of you brings a different background and set of experiences – but you share a commitment to making UW a place where all people feel welcome and included and helping us live up to our mission as a public university to provide real access to education.


Progress is never fast enough, but there is progress.  I want to take just a few minutes to share some of it with you.


Points of Pride

First, we’re attracting and retaining more students from underrepresented groups … better supporting their success … and making sure they reach graduation:


  • We had a substantial increase in applications from underrepresented students of color this year, and that translated into a substantial increase in enrollment.


    • The share of students of color in our freshman class is just over 25%, an all-time high, and the share of freshmen from groups that have been historically underrepresented on this campus is also at an all-time high of nearly 15%.


  • The four-year graduation rate for underrepresented students of color has improved by 23 points in the last decade.


  • And the graduation gap for undergraduates between white students and historically underrepresented students has been cut nearly in half in that time (now a 7-point difference).


Second, we’re hiring more faculty of color.  We’ve made some significant investments and we’re seeing results.  Over the past five years, we’ve welcomed 243 new faculty who identify as people of color.


Some of them have come in through our TOP program, which began in 2018 to provide funds from the central campus to help departments recruit people from groups not well-represented within their discipline.


  • In the past three years, we’ve hired 42 new faculty though TOP across a range of departments.


  • The program’s goal is diversity in all forms – for example, we have hired women into departments that are heavily male.  And about ¾ of these new faculty are people of color from underrepresented groups.


Hiring more diverse faculty is just one way to make this place feel more welcoming.  There are many other projects underway and I want to say a special thanks to:


  • Lori Reesor, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, and her team who have spearheaded some terrific programs with our students, including the Divine Nine Garden Plaza on the East Campus Mall.  The Plaza is dedicated to sharing the story of UW’s historically Black fraternities and sororities, which many people on this campus know very little about.


  • And Dr. LaVar Charleston, who, with his team at DDEEA, is creating initiatives that will build on the assets we already have here at UW and engage the entire campus in efforts to improve diversity and inclusion.


As I have said many times, this work cannot be done exclusively from Bascom Hall.   We need people and units involved from across campus.


Three New Programs

Finally, I want to tell you about three programs we’re working on right now:


The first is the Raimey-Noland Campaign, named for the first two Black students to graduate from this university – Mabel Watson Raimey and William Smith Noland.


  • When I announced this effort a year ago in the summer, I set a goal to raise $10 million. 15 months later, we have raised more than $50 million and we expect this fund to keep growing.


  • About half of the fund is for undergraduate scholarships – we have 82 scholarship recipients in our new freshman class from all over the country.


  • The rest of the campaign focuses on supporting diversity and inclusion on our campus with graduate/professional scholarships, support for academic programs and research, and faculty support.


The second effort you need to know about is the Campus Climate Survey, which went out to students at all levels earlier this month and closes next Monday.


  • The survey is designed to give us information about how people of all backgrounds and identities experience this campus.


  • The first survey was in 2016, so this one will help us to assess our progress and make decisions about where to focus more resources.


  • We had an excellent response rate – about 20% – the first time around, and I’m told we’re on track to do even better this time.


And the third event is a flag raising happening at 10 a.m. this Friday.  We will raise the flag of the Ho-Chunk Nation above Bascom Hall during a public ceremony, and you are all invited.


  • This is the first time in the university’s history that another nation’s flag will fly above our campus for a day along with the U.S. flag and the Wisconsin state flag.


  • We’ll have leaders from the Ho-Chunk Nation, and musical performances, and I want to thank Aaron Bird Bear, our Director of Tribal Relations, along with Omar Poler at the School of Education for their work to put this event together.


  • We’re keeping our fingers crossed for good weather, and I hope many of you will join us out on Bascom Hill.



This Forum is a place to recognize and celebrate progress … to learn … and to be inspired to think in new ways about our work on equity and racial justice.


I hope that our keynote speaker this morning – and the panel that follows him – will also help us think in new ways about how we can better support our Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American community members, some of whom have been subjected to racism, xenophobia, and hatred since the onset of the pandemic.


The public blaming and shaming have taken many forms – from verbal abuse to online harassment to physical violence.  Many of you will remember the mass shooting that killed eight people in Atlanta last March.  Thankfully, Madison has not seen that level of violence – but we, too, have had our share of hateful incidents:


  • In March 2020, the first month of the pandemic, we documented 39 reports of bias against members of our campus community who identify as Asian or Asian-American.  It’s likely that many others went unreported.


  • Asian-descended people have been spit at, harassed, and subjected to hateful graffiti.


  • They have felt stigmatized by those who move away from them in public settings, change seats on a bus, or act in other ways that send a hurtful message.


  • And they have felt isolated and hurt by the silence of the larger community, including – at times – their own professors and colleagues.


    • A number of people have put it this way:  Nobody asks about me and my family.


    • I want to assure you that I am committed to changing that.  UW–Madison has to be a place where every person is valued and hatred is not tolerated.


Russell Jeung Introduction

Dr. Charleston already shared a bit about Dr. Russell Jeung and his work.  He’s an accomplished sociologist and professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University.


When Dr. Jeung and his colleagues learned how COVID-19 was being publicly associated with China, they knew that it would trigger acts of hate, discrimination, and violence against people of Asian descent – and they knew that documenting these acts would be critically important to combatting them.


Part of their work is raising awareness not just of individual incidents, but of the long and terrible history of anti-Asian violence in this country that these incidents connect to – and which many in our community know little about.


That’s the starting point of real change.


I hope all of you will leave today with new ideas, new connections, and a new sense for the role you can play in these important efforts.


Now please join me in a warm welcome for Dr. Russell Jeung.