Brenda González is the New UW-Madison Director of
True Campus-Community Collaboration
For the past 25 yerars, Brenda González has worked with various
Madison area organizations to interface with communities of
wanting to make sure that I connect with all communities to be able to have an easier access to education, to the university and to its workforce. It is one of the
largest employers in Dane County. It is important for me to think about how do we continue to do the inclusive work that the university is doing and how the
chancellor’s vision is going to take the next step by all of the different groups that she has working to achieve those goals including myself in making sure that we
connect to some of the communities like for example the South Madison community.”
In times past, it seemed as if the university viewed itself as the “white” knight who was coming to rescue people who either had deficits or were unable to make a
difference in their own lives. Without necessarily intending to, the impact could be very demeaning and self-defeating. However, in recent years, the relationships
— and attitudes — have changed.
“I’m so glad that there are projects that are co-creating with communities, reaching out to communities first to be able to write grants or develop ideas to then bring
resources to the community, but also continue that relationship,” González said. “It used to be that the university was connected to the communities. It would come
in, feel that there was some service that was able to be done in the community, but then the feedback was that they leave and there is no connection or continued
relationship that we want this to be in the community. I think that has changed and now we have a community advisory board that really helps our researchers, our
university academics and university campus students to really understand what that means, what that long-term relationship means and the sustainability for that
González is honored to be filling the shoes of those who have come before her in forging these partnerships.
“I really think that the university and others in my role like Everett Mitchell, Leslie Orrantia and before that Dawn Crim and of course our beloved LaMarr Billups
really wanted to see some of these things that are happening now,” González said. “I am excited to say that we have a space that the university is funding with the
idea that we are collaborating and listening to different organizations in the community in order to bring all of us together, academics and researchers, but also the
community needs and really understanding what that means to bring more information and more of the resources that the university has for the community in a way
that the community wants it and not just an idea that is created in an office in some place at the university. That is important to me. It’s important to the chancellor.
It’s important to the Office of Community Relations. I’m hoping to be able to be that connector.
As a community activist, González has forged relationships with people from many different sectors and communities in the Madison area. She intends to use that
knowledge to help form collaborations that will make a difference in South Madison and beyond.
“I have been doing some of this work for 20 years,” González said. “I feel like either I am already on that board or I will reconnect after many years of focusing
different areas. Absolutely I think it is important to be involved and at the table to hear the conversations. If that means one board or one meeting that I need to be a
part of, I am all for it. Building relationships is certainly my strong suit. I might not know all of the information. I will bring the expert into the room or the meeting. I’m
not afraid of that. I would rather have something done so that we can all, the greater community including the university, can benefit from it instead of having those
silo conversations that don’t necessarily help everyone.”
While there are long-standing commitments and organizations through which the university interfaces with the community like the university-community committee
that deals with the impact of Camp Randall on the surrounding neighborhoods, but there will be other new opportunities that González will take advantage of.
“I just joined the 2020 census committee for the city of Madison to be able to bring the connection that we need to make sure that everyone understands the
importance of being counted in the census,” González said. “I really feel we need to create a trusted source of information to make sure that communities
understand that it is safe to share certain information and exactly what to share will be important. I think having community members as a part of that committee is
important. It’s been something that the Mayor Satya has emphasized. She wants to make sure that members of that committee are trusted community leaders and
can share with the community what we are doing and be as transparent as we can to make sure that people are not afraid to complete the form. I think you have
County Executive Joe Parisi and Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway sharing really inclusive and welcoming messages that we need to hear. I think it is important that
the community knows that we are welcome and that they are trying to make sure that we are included in all of the different efforts.”
UW-Madison is anticipating an expanded presence in South Madison in the near future. As Madison College South has moved to its new Madison College South
campus on Badger Rd., it left new opportunities in the Villager Mall to expand programs like The Odyssey Project.
“I am so excited that part of my office is assistant director of the UW South Madison Partnership. I am also excited to announce that we are moving to a larger
space in the Villager to be able to answer to the need and continue to grow our partnership. We are moving into the space that Madison College had in the Villager
New true collaborations between campus and community will be springing up as González connects collaborative pieces together to create new initiatives and
strengthen old ones to move the Madison area’s communities of color forward in the true spirit of the Wisconsin Idea.
By Jonathan Gramling
It seems that Brenda González has been preparing for this moment in time when she was
appointed UW-Madison’s new Director of Community Relations. Since she moved to the
Madison area about 25 years ago, González has been involved in the community outreach
efforts of many Madison area organizations and served on many boards including United Way,
Boys & Girls Club and Centro Hispano.
Now as the university’s community relations director, González can step up to the next level in
connecting organizations and projects together — forming true campus-community
collaborations — that benefit Madison and beyond.
“In thinking about joining UW-Madison, I was able to see how I could impact the work that is
being done by the university,” González said. “In turn, they made a commitment by looking at
someone like me, — who looks like me and sounds like me — an immigrant who is really