Update on UW-Madison Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement
Running a Virtual Campus in a Stay at Home World
|Deputy Vice-Chancellor Patrick Sims is heading up the
UW-Madison Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational
Achievement out of his Sun Prairie home.
important that we get a chance to love on one another while we can and just sing those praises for each other while we can. So we did a lot of that this afternoon.
It went really well. The team was very appreciative as was I just so I could let them know that I was thinking about them. The team and the leadership team are
caring for each other. We’re sending prayers and good vibes into the universe. We are mindful of each other’s experiences. We want to make sure that everyone
has what they need to succeed. That’s been my mantra and that is what we are still trying to live up to today.”
The work of the DDEEA hardly stopped when the students left for home or returned to home after spring break. With the campus turning to online classes, the
DDEEA’s role of support was needed now more than ever.
“We provide the academic enrichment and wrap around support services for students,” Sims said. “That work is still going. Our advisors are still meeting with the
students in the program. The PEOPLE advisors are still meeting with PEOPLE students. Posse advisors are still meeting with Posse students. Those relationships
are still moving full steam ahead and team members are still working hard. Advisors are doing either Google Hangout, Web Ex or Microsoft Teams. They are still
having that one-on-one experience with students. And students are having a hard time. But they are coming through it.”
Within a very short time period, the faculty and staff adjusted to providing online instruction and services. However, probably the biggest adjustment was for the
students who had to deal with having several classes online and other work that didn’t fit the online experience.
“Many of them were in lab classes,” Sims said of the students. “It’s pretty hard to do those labs without being physically present or actually working with the
pipettes and the Bunsen burners and beakers and so forth. Or in my case in the theater, you have scene study or you are actually producing a show. How do you
make that work? Those pieces were still important, but we don’t have all of the answers yet. However, I think folks are wrestling with it, acknowledging that this
might be our new normal.”
And although for many students the norm seemed to be the virtual world and social media as they walked down Bascom Hill plugged into their devices, in many
ways, it’s been a brave new world for them too.
“This is a group that is very comfortable engaging in social media or digital platforms or having Group Chat on Facebook Live and having Instagram,” Sims said.
“In one instance, this is par for the course. But when it quickly becomes the only way in which you communicate, my sense is students are starting to realize,
‘Man, I still need to see somebody. I need to touch somebody. I need to sit out in the sun and smell the roses and feel the breeze coming off the lake. Having that
experiential journey together, it’s hard to put that in words and it’s hard to acknowledge how important that is until it is gone. If someone is classically trained in a
discipline where the act of the communal gathering itself is critical to the success of the enterprise, for us in the theater, the show doesn’t mean a doggone thing
until the audience shows up. It’s humbling to see others come to that revelation, that being in community is such an important part of our existence. It’s important
to affirm each other’s humanity.”
While it has always been said that UW-Madison is a world-class university, it is now a world-wide university where students are in all corners of the world, but
they are still attending UW-Madison virtually.
“Everything is delivered asynchronously,” Sims said. “We have students who are international students. When we first came back — that first week of classes —
if they were still in the States, everyone was going to school at 8:30-9:00 a.m. But when those students are back home in China or Japan, you have some with a 10-
13 hour time difference. If you are 6 p.m. here, you are almost 3-4 a.m. there. Or if you are super early in the day here, you are super late in the day there. It’s
interesting, so they’ve adjusted to try and have those spaces where students can access content not necessarily in real time. But they can get content
asynchronously — when they are ready to consume it and it makes sense for them to actually log in and read the notes or watch the recorded lecture. Faculty have
had to make those adjustments. But that is not a small thing.”
Due to the impact of COVID-19 and the uncertain length of that impact — is it next month or next year when its threat will be over — the university has had to plan
far into the future, thinking through every contingency, to ensure that the university will remain focused on its mission to provide a world-class education no matter
what the circumstances.
“I have to say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised and impressed that as we go through this process that the folks who are on the frontline doing the heavy lifting of
the strategic planning and thinking are really mindful of those of us who are less fortunate, of their needs and what they need to succeed,” Sims observed. “They
are really mindful of how this will impact communities of color and those from other marginalized communities. While I can’t say that these concerns are front and
center, they are not on the periphery in the way that perhaps I was bracing myself for. They are more engaged in thinking about these things than I had anticipated.
That gives me great comfort. That makes me feel good, so that I’m not the only one asking the diversity question or encouraging people to think about it through the
diversity lens. That’s always a good thing.”
Right now as things stand, there will be no more activities on the UW-Madison campus. There will be no graduation ceremony in Camp Randall. There will be no
giving hugs to classmates whom you’ve known for at least four years and often times longer. The university will honor its graduates as best it can under the
“The chancellor cut a video that basically said, ‘Hey, I do not want to do this,’” Sims said about cancelling the commencement ceremony. “And she really did wait
until the very last minute before she had to make the call. We aren’t going to have our Camp Randall graduation ceremony obviously. The worst case scenario is
we end up doing something for this 2020 graduating class where they end up being able to participate in something in December or maybe in spring 2021. The one
thing we do know is no physical gathering is happening in May 2020. There may be things like video montages, but there won’t be any physical sort of gathering
like we have typically understood commencement to be.”
The DDEEA is known for its person graduation ceremonies where the graduates of PEOPLE or POSSE or First Wave come together with family and friends to look
back on the challenges and the good times and the support that led them to the moment of graduation. DDEEA is going to do what it can in the virtual world.
“Obviously the graduation ceremony won’t happen the way we’ve done it in years past because there is still a moratorium on physical gatherings,” Sims said. “For
us, we’re trying to do something digitally where there is a slide show or a photo sequence with different programs featured and then photos are shown. The team is
still hashing out those details. But those individual program experiences, we’ve left it to the teams to try to figure out how best to support their students and
recognize that and let them know that they are appreciated, cared for and loved. But it won’t be the same way where you get to bring in the folks and physically
thank them and publically acknowledge their contributions to your academic success. It’s all going to largely be done online. The challenge is trying to figure out
how to do that and still keep some heart and soul in it so people feel that energy, that dynamism that happens when you’re in community and you witness the
impact on so many students, the faculty, the staff and their peers had on each other. It’s not always the same when you get to look at it on a computer screen. But
arguably, there may be some new ways to share that feedback. Who knows?”
Even with the best case scenario for the COVID-19 pandemic dissipating by the fall and life returning to “normal,” it has already, more than likely, impacted the
2020-2021 school year.
“Admissions is going on about as normal as it can be,” Sims said. “Everyone is in this upended format. You’re still worried about yield obviously. If you can
imagine, you have an incoming freshman class with this COVID-19 going on, we may get a reprieve this summer, but there is also good discussion about there
might be a resurgence this coming fall during the flu season. If I’m a parent of a newly minted high-school grad and my kid is going half-way around the country, I
might want to rethink that. Some families are thinking long and hard — we assume because we don’t have any evidence of this yet — about, ‘Do I want to send my
kid half-way across the country if this thing breaks out again? No, I want my baby home close to me.’ I think those are issues and concerns that we are wrestling
with. We know we’ll see an impact with the international student body. For many of them, there is no guarantee that they are going to be able to get into the U.S. if
they are out of the country. And if they do come, there is no guarantee that if anything pops up again, they’ll be able to get back home. They are potentially stuck
And if there are some precautions still in place in the fall, it could alter the way that DDEEA does some of its programming.
“For example, the Diversity Forum, so much of that is an experience about being physically present and in community, seeing all of the people in the Great Hall or
Varsity Hall at Union South,” Sims said. “We had close to 1,400 people involved in that process. How do you keep that same enthusiasm and synergy and energy
that you get from being physically present when you are delivering content solely online? That is no small feat.”
And there were some instances this spring as COVID-19 was gaining strength that racist graffiti against Asian Americans appeared on campus.
“We had a couple of town halls that were done online through Zoom or Web Ex. We had 700 and some odd people who were logged in trying to get involved in the
conversation, which was fantastic. But then we ran into some serious technical difficulties. We tried to break out to smaller rooms. But the students who were
town halled got Zoom-bombed where people were dropping the ‘N’ word and swearing and someone apparently mooned the camera. These things happen. But the
overall goal of those efforts, I think, were accomplished because it was about bringing community together, showing that we care about, in particular, our Asian
and Asian American community members because this was in response to the chalking incident that happened in and around campus that Monday evening right
after classes came back. We wanted to send very clear signals that this was not behavior that we condoned or supported. And we wanted to send signals to the
community to let them know that we are thinking about them and we have their back and we want to give them resources on how to cope with that in this context
of we are all being asked to stay at home.”
No matter what the circumstances, DDEEA will be there for students of color and other underrepresented students as UW-Madison adjusts to the COVID-19
pandemic as it continues to provide a world-class education to all of its students.
By Jonathan Gramling
Driving by the UW-Madison campus, it’s like a ghost town, the corner of Park St. and University Ave.
deserted. Looking up Bascom Hill, there is no one in sight, even during the times in between when
classes would be held. Bascom Hall, where Deputy Vice-Chancellor Patrick Sims headed up the
Division of Diversity, Equity & Educational Achievement and most of his staff worked out of, sits still
and isolated as its students are dispersed throughout the world.
Sims is still managing the DDEEA, just as the university is still in operation, only it’s in a virtual
world. With his children playing close by, Sims is conducting business from his Sun Prairie home.
Sims had just got done conducting an all-staff meeting.
"Folks were glad to see each other even if it was virtually,” Sims said. “We heard all of the updates of
what folks have been up to during this interim period of trying to keep things as close to normal as
possible. But there is still a lot of good work still happening. In times like these, with all of the horror
stories we’re hearing about the deaths and the disproportionate impact on communities of color, it’s