Vol. 9    No. 9
MAY 1, 2014

The Capital City Hues
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EDITORIAL STAFF

Jonathan Gramling
Publisher & Editor

Contributing Writers
Alfonso Zepeda Capistran, Theola
Carter, Fabu, Lang Kenneth
Haynes, Eileen Cecille Hocker,
Donna Parker, Heidi Pascual, &
Lisa Peyton-Caire

Webmaster:
Heidi M. Pascual
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                           Racial Climate Scenes
It was such a contrast for me — or perhaps a reminder.

Last week, I was up at Bascom Hall on the UW-Madison campus for a meeting of the Campus Diversity and
Climate Committee. For the past 18 months, the university has been developing a new campus diversity
plan, a framework for promoting and evaluating the progress of diversity efforts on campus. An ad hoc
committee had been developing the plan and the CDCC will be involved in implementing the plan.

We had just concluded a meeting discussing the draft plan and some of its key features and I was feeling
pretty good about things. I care deeply about UW-Madison, my alma mater, and as I am a man of very
modest means, I feel that working on initiatives like this is a way that I can give back to the university for
all that it has given me. It was and is an excellent place to get a higher education. This past week I was
taking photos for the 2014 Hues Row of Excellence, which honors graduating seniors of color who have a
3.0 GPA or greater. When I heard of student plans to attend UW-Madison, it gave me a warm feeling. These
students are headed for a great place to pursue their education.

As I approached Helen C. White Library where I had parked my car, I saw a familiar face hobbling out of the
library on the way to her car, which she had parked on the sidewalk. It was my friend Vanika Mock who
works at the university.

As I approached her to say hello, I could see that she was crying, something that I had never seen Vanika
do before. Vanika was on a crutch because she had hurt her knee. Vanika on a crutch is such a contrast to
the physically fit runner whom I am accustomed to. But as I started to talk to Vanika and offered to carry her
laptop to her car for her — she refused — I found that Vanika was crying from the emotional pain that she
was feeling and not the physical pain that was also distressing her.

Vanika is on the Ad Hoc Committee that just completed its work, the work that I had just reviewed. Vanika
is a proud, independent African American woman who takes wonderful care of her son. Vanika is kind and
strong-minded, not afraid to speak her mind.

In order to do her work on the Ad Hoc Committee, Vanika has been borrowing a laptop from the library and
must come in on a regular basis to renew the laptop loan. Someone had told her that she could access the
second floor of the library where she was going to from the parking garage down below. While she could go
up, she couldn’t get in. So she went back to the basement, got in her car and parked on the sidewalk with
her disabled parking sticker in full view and walked to the front desk. By this time, Vanika was in
considerable pain. On several other occasions, she had given a person at the front desk her photo ID and
library card and they had done the renewal for her on the second floor while Vanika waited at the front desk.
On this particular day, the person at the front desk refused to do this for her and was backed up by another
staff person working nearby. Vanika was in a lot of physical pain by this time and explained that this was
okay. But the way the staff treated her made Vanika feel that they thought she was somehow trying to get
over or trying to just get them to wait on her. People were turning around looking and Vanika’s frustration
and embarrassment levels were rising along with the pain.

Here is an African American woman in a library and setting that is predominantly Euro-American and she is
arguing with the Euro-American staff who were in charge. And they were treating her as if she were lazy
and trying to get over — in a very stereotypical way. It can make you very self-aware in terms of how you
feel others are perceiving the incident.

Eventually the staff person relented and did go upstairs and make the exchange and Vanika hobbled out to
her car.

I can’t say what was in the hearts of those staff people or what motivated them. I can’t say definitively that
they were acting in a racist manner. Perhaps they were just rude people who hadn’t polished their
customer-service demeanor. But I can say that they had a tremendous impact on the climate that Vanika
experiences at UW-Madison.

When I went to Alcorn State University, a historically Black university in Lorman, Mississippi, I had great
times on campus and met a lot of great people. Often times race wasn’t a factor as we went about the
business of getting a college education. But every once in a while, someone would do something that
reminded me that I was a Euro-American student on a predominantly African American campus. And
feelings of isolation would course through my being. And I would wonder, ‘Who else feels this way?’ It
would take a while to shake that feeling off.

Everyone on the UW campus is responsible for campus climate, faculty, staff and students as well as
guests. Perhaps these staff people weren’t reacting to Vanika according to her race. But Vanika’s instincts
told her differently and those kinds of instincts usually don’t lie.

At its best, the behavior of those staff people was rude. African Americans and other people on campus are
like the canary in the mind shaft, to borrow a concept from Lani Guinier. Indicators that the campus climate
isn’t very good for African American students may be an early warning that others do not have a welcoming
environment as well. And when we work to improve the campus climate for African American and other
students of color, we will probably find that we are improving the campus climate for all students to
achieve their academic dreams.
Preserving Public Education
Atlanta Superintendent Erroll Davis
at the Madison Civics Club
Rhodessa Jones in
Madison