|The Campus as a Laboratory for Human Development
by Jamala Rogers
I just read about the all—white promotional video at University of Wisconsin. Read it in the New York Times. The situation took me back to when I
arrived as a Black, working class teen tossed on a predominantly Midwest white campus over 50 years ago. The memory wasn’t a pleasant one. It
was white college Deja Vue.
I’m sure most Cap Hues readers are probably aware of the racial brouhaha that erupted when a video which was supposed to project what
homecoming means to students at UW-Madison included no non-white students. I’m sure most Madisonians were put at ease when the incident
and subsequent protests faded from the public view. This is the problem with confronting racism.
I’m gonna move past what it’s like for a person of color to be in a racially hostile
bubble. I’m gonna move past the shameful machinations by the university to do
damage control. I’m gonna move past all the efforts that went into pretending
that inclusion had been achieved with the second video of choreographed
This is the stuff that adds insult to injury because students of color know there’
s been no substantive change. University officials also know it. Then there’s
the rise of resentment by white students watching the unfolding scenario and
feeling like Black students were getting unwarranted attention for their
What I’ve seen of corporations, universities and other white institutions is that
they’d rather spend time and money to fake it than to address racism head on.
Like hiring diversity or inclusion directors with no power. Like creating visuals
that show a diversity of race, gender, age, ability and other human differences.
Like carrying out high profile photo opportunities in communities of color.
I don’t expect the demographics of UW-Madison to change overnight.
Transforming a 45,000-student campus into a diverse student body would be
an act of magic. We know this is not a new problem for the university, just like it’
s not a new problem for America.
What would be new and different is to bring the stakeholders together to
develop — and implement — a serious, realistic, long-term plan to steadily
move the numbers to the goal. This means re-designing the campus to be
more welcoming to the “other” and be swift in addressing acts of hate.
The Wisconsin state university system is churning out future leaders who will
inevitably take their place in a browning world. The place for learning how to
carry out those different roles is in the incubator campus. Higher education is
failing our young people when it does not prepare them for participation in a
global society. The future is now.