UW-Madison Diversity Forum on November 5-6
Creating Positive Climate
|Above: Assistant Vive Chancellor Patrick Sims is UW-
Madison’s chief diversity officer
Below: A panel from UW-Madison’s #IamUWsocial media
campaignto show that all studentsbelong
on the UW-Madison campus and to show the diversity of
the student body.
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
It almost seems like the Greek myth of Sisyphus eternally rolling the boulder up the hill only to have it
roll back down once he nears the top. While there are continuous efforts to make the UW-Madison’s
campus climate more welcoming for African American and other underrepresented students, incidents
happen that make it feel as if the effort has to start from zero once again.
For example the latest incident where a video on UW-Madison past and present didn’t include students
of color even though footage had been provided provoked a feeling of not being wanted in some
“We had a comedy show and this comedian said, ‘You know, it’s almost the exact opposite,’” Assistant
Vice Chancellor Patrick Sims said about the Multicultural Homecoming Weekend events. “’Then they
were trying to Photoshop us in. But this time around, they cut us out.’ That was his observation. The
issue is still the same. We’re still trying to figure out how to represent what is our reality, but also what
is our aspirations. You don’t want to lean too far in either direction. You don’t want to go overboard in
the aspirations because then you are falsely representing what things are. But you also don’t want to
reaffirm the status quo. We know that is not sufficient and we know that is changing. And we have to be
responsive. How everyone embraces that reality, I think the devil is in the details. That’s why we have the situations that we have.”
One effort that the university has implemented is the #IamUW social media campaign whose initial
phase features UW-Madison students who identify what makes them a part of the campus.
“We’re blasting that all over the place partially in response to and in anticipation of what happened
with the Homecoming scenario,” Sims said. “If you think back to 2016, there were seven
recommendations that the committee gave us as a result of going through our first ever student
campus climate survey. Two of the recommendations were about promoting our shared values of
diversity and inclusion and what it means to have cross-cultural discussions that recognize and
celebrate our differences, but also highlight the things that bind us as members of the community.
And so that was the foundation and the context in which we began our unifying messaging strategy
that reached out both to our majority students while also not alienating our minority students, but
encouraging our majority students to get involved in this conversation around diversity and
inclusion. We did not make the mistakes of the past. We were intentional. We featured students. We
didn’t Photoshop anyone. But we wanted to walk the line I was talking about. What is our aspiration
and what is our reality? We are forward leaning into how we think about what it means to be a
student at UW-Madison. Students say #IamUW, while I am also a scientist. I’m also a researcher. I’m
also a terrace dweller. I’m also an avid runner, whatever it is that makes them unique or them as individual students. They are also UW. They are students here at
the UW. That was an effort that we put together. We’ve been working on that for three years. The public phase of the effort kicked off this past fall. We’ll be expanding
that to engage our faculty and staff this spring. You will see all kinds of imagery on campus that’s representing the students.”
One of the most important diversity initiatives on campus each year is the Diversity Forum, which brings together staff, professors, students and community
members together — people from all backgrounds — to recharge and to forge ahead on diversity issues and initiatives. This year’s forum is November 5-6 in Union
South’s Varsity Hall. And they are bringing in a nationally-renown speaker who came up through the same ranks as many UW-Madison underrepresented students.
He is John Quiñones, an ABC News reporter and creator and host of the TV show “What Would You Do.”
“We’re excited that he’s going to come,” Sims said. “He has a wonderful story. He’s an avid supporter of the TRIO program. He himself was a TRIO student when he
was in college. He has a migrant story. His family were immigrants and migrant workers. He’s a thought leader in this space. Granted he’s a journalist, but he is
cutting to the core of what arguably are some of the things that we are all wrestling with or thinking about. He has a way to show that. The adage is ‘I can show you
better than I can tell you.’ I think he has done that with the show ‘What Would You Do.’ He shows that there are some good things out there. People do speak up and
leverage their voices. We’re excited that he is going to be the keynote.”
Quiñones’ speech will be followed by the panel discussion “Should I Say Something? Exploring the Barriers Around Responding to Incidents and Bias featuring Pia
Kinney James, retired police officer, Madison Police Department, Gabe Javier, interim associate vice chancellor, Student Life and Cleda Wang, assistant director of
Residence Life for Inclusion, University Housing.
After lunch where the 2019-2020 UW Outstanding Women of Color Awards are announced, there will be two breakout sessions on building equity and inclusion in
public schools and navigating difficult discussions before the day ends with the traditional town hall meeting.
“The town hall for this year is the Discomfort of Public Discourse, Confronting the Legacies of White Supremacy,” Sims said. “We are naming it in a way that we
imagine we’ll ruffle some feathers. When you hear the term of white supremacy, it’s not all about someone as a Nazi skinhead or anything like that, the most extreme
iteration of white supremacy. It’s a subtle thing like going to the store. You’re looking for a shade of Band-Aid that matches your skin tone and you can’t find it. It’s the
most fundamental pieces that are not politicized, but are just a part of the fabric of life and who we are in this institution. The idea of having a student in a classroom
— it breaks my heart every time I hear this story because it happens every year — and the instructor hands out a group assignment. Students self-select and form
their own groups. Everyone turns away from the student of color who is in the class. That student of color is by him or herself and is not a part of the group. And no
one sees that or experiences that, but that student. And it’s not until they speak up and say, ‘Hey can I join your group,’ which almost feels like high school, that they
join a group. It’s not a popularity contest. Sometimes people just write those things off and say that it isn’t a big deal. Just join a group. Get over it. But the ability for
majority students in that context is nothing to worry about whether or not they are going to be in a group. But because this student is a student of color — and it may
very well be that some folks assume that they didn’t want to be in their group and that’s why they didn’t invite them. But you don’t know unless you have that
conversation. But it’s often the case with a student of color that they are sitting there with that burden trying to decipher what it is.”
Day Two of the Diversity Forum will be filled with break-out sessions.
“We have a breakout session one, options A, B, and C,” Sims said. “We have Reclaiming First Nations Truths. We have Intro to LGBTQ+ Identity Best Practices. We
have some very concrete pieces folks can buy into and adopt as part of their daily protocol. Supporting the Mental Health of Graduate Students is something that we
hear about all the time. Then we have a second set of workshops. A Stronger Madison for All Racial Disparities in Madison, Wisconsin and the Divergent Realities
They Have Created. It’s sort of that tale of two cities phenomenon. Is Age Just a Number combats generational stereotypes. And Unintended Victim: The
Psychological Tolls of Secondary Trauma. There are some interesting pieces that we have there. We’re trying to make sure that we are speaking to all of our
stakeholders. We have Yo Soy: Pueblo Unido. And then we have Deconstructing Social Justice. Sometimes in certain contexts, social justice is a dirty word. ‘It’s a
dirty way of talking about the past that we should be done with by now.’ But it doesn’t always work that way. Then we have the final session ‘What Will You Do.’ It’s
an equity in action workshop. And that will be led by Annette Miller, the founder and CEO of EQT by Design.”
Sims’ office is trying to be intentional about including people from campus and the community in presenting information and discussions to ensure that it is relevant
to the entire community. He also has an eye on creating a more regional event that would attract people from the Milwaukee, Chicago and Minneapolis markets.
While the Diversity Forum is a time of renewal and a way to get people motivated to make a difference, Sims emphasized that people need to go back to their
respective spaces and make diversity and inclusion a reality.
Next issue: Creating Positive Climate