An Interview with UW Chief Diversity
Officer Patrick Sims
Full Plate Agenda
Dr. Patrick Sim is vice provost for diversity and director of the UW
Division pf Diversity, Equity
and Educational Excellence (DDEEA).
being involved in the SOAR orientation. And I think the Our Wisconsin program has been a great step in that direction. The analogy that I would
use is there was a lot of sophisticated analysis in what the First Wave program was bringing to the table. And there are a number of folk who
have no clue, didn’t understand the relevance of what First Wave represented. For those of us who know that was innovative and is
innovative and we certainly intend to bring it back. But you have to crawl before you can walk. And so what we think now is a good way until I
can get things back and running with First Wave, the Our Wisconsin program is embedded in the SOAR experience for all students. And so
everyone gets the opportunity to experience it and experience it in the way that makes sense to them. Now you can imagine that there is a lot of
push back on that because some would characterize the Our Wisconsin program as a kind of indoctrination. And it is anything but that. But that’
s the battle.”

As the chief diversity officer, Vice-Provost Patrick Sims feels that his responsibility is for all students. And with an expanded list of
underrepresented students and the intersectionality of the underrepresented students, it is a challenging task to improve the campus climate
and collegiate experience for everyone.

“How do we deal with it through an intersectional lens where if I am African American, Latino, Latina member of the LGBTQ community and I
happen to have a disability, where am I,” Sims queried. “Where is the infrastructure support that makes me feel like my needs are understood
and why we can’t disaggregate to every single possibility in terms of what variables might exist of a given person’s lived experience, we can
try to do things that create opportunities for engagement and curiosity and continuing the conversation as opposed to just making assumptions,
‘Well sorry there’s nothing there for you, so figure it out. Tough luck.’ That too is part of the portfolio to uplift and support everyone, but in
particular the folk whom we serve.”

And a gargantuan task that Sims faces is engaging all students in the conversation about — and the solutions — the issues that
underrepresented students face.

“One of the things that we often wrestle with is we know this work typically falls on the backs of those who are of the community that we are
trying to serve or to compensate or address some of our historical deficiencies,” Sims said. “That’s a given. We’re going to look out for those
who are first gen, who are low-income and of course those who have been historically underrepresented. But the job doesn’t stop there. You
have to find a way to engage the rest of the student population, largely our majority white students in a way that they feel a sense of ownership
and understand the importance of what it means to be an ally and an ally in any context, whether it’s you’re an ally for social justice, you’re an
ally for women, especially in terms of some things that we have been hearing lately with the Weinstein fiasco, you’re an ally for race relations
or you’re an ally for LGBTQ issues. That’s a responsibility that we all have. And although the race element is often front and center — and it’s
the one thing that we still haven’t quite figured out and I don’t think we are going to figure out any time soon — it’s not the only thing. There are
other things that are there. And so, how do we deal with that?”

With about 20 staff who aren’t involved in the division’s six pipeline programs, Sims’ charge is to impact all of the colleges and schools on
campus as it relates to the needs and interests of underrepresented students.

“Each school and college has a responsibility to figure out how you drill down to create this sense of engagement and ownership,” Sims
emphasized.

The existing ethnic studies requirement was evaluated during the past year. According to Sims, while some of the courses needed tweaking, it
was found that the courses were meeting their objective. One thing that Sims is advocating for is the expansion of the ethnic studies
requirement.

“One of the pieces that I have been advocating for is you have your gen ed ethnic studies requirement,” Sims said. “But I would love to see —
this isn’t policy yet, but I’ve been trying to have a conversation about it — an ethnic studies requirement that is discipline, major specific. So it
isn’t an add-on. It satisfies the major. And it speaks to some of the learning outcomes that we want to see that are identified for the ethnic
studies requirement. You get a gen ed experience and you also have a dedicated experience that is related to your discipline and chosen field.
If I am a physics major, what’s that ethnic studies/physics course that I am taking that helps me meet the demands of the major as opposed to
something that is layered on that feels like a burden not only for the faculty and the teachers, but also for the students who say, ‘Now I have to
take this extra thing?’ How do you fold that in?”

The need for students and citizens in general to have a greater understanding of people who are different than them has become more
important as the national climate for tolerance has taken a turn for the worse, a climate that impacts UW-Madison as well.

“Some people are more emboldened,” Sims said. “This is hard. My personal experience just as an African American and a member of this
community, as a father of an eight-year-old Black boy and an eight-month-old daughter, it feels like we are back in the early 20th century. It feels
like 1917 in some respects. While there has been tremendous progress and opportunity — I wouldn’t be in this position in 1917 — what we’re
up against, the kind of venom and vitriol, is stuff that is passed down. That is stuff that is taught. So there are cultural elements to this that we
have never addressed, we meaning as a country have never really addressed. I don’t know if we will ever be able to address it to the point
where we fully stamp it out. Human nature is such that we can do some dastardly things to each other in the name of self-preservation. If I feel
like you are coming for me and you are trying to get mine, I got something for you. It’s that way of engaging, trying to protect what is my sense of
longevity and my legacy, I think people respond differently. Some people feel nervous going into inner-city Milwaukee. I was just in Milwaukee
at a performance. Someone made the comment that persons who live in the outlying areas always have their weapon with them when they
enter the inner-city of Milwaukee. And I’m thinking like, ‘Really? If that’s the ‘hood, you really haven’t seen ‘hood. You couldn’t handle Chicago,
Atlanta or Washington, D.C.’ It’s trying to understand what drives that fear. What is it that we are so afraid of that the response is, ‘I am always
armed when entering the inner-city’?”

It is a tide that Sims’ diversity office is charged with counteracting so that the UW-Madison’s environment is conducive to the learning of all
students.
Part 2

By Jonathan Gramling

It isn’t easy being the chief diversity officer at a large research
institution like UW-Madison with approximately 43,000 students and over
21,000 faculty and staff. Not only do you directly administer six pipeline
programs that touch the lives of about half of the underrepresented
students on campus, but you are also expected to make progress in
improving the campus climate for students of color and other
underrepresented groups in an environment of defused authority among
eight schools and colleges and their myriad departments. This on top of
having to do fundraising with companies and alumni in order to keep
those six pipeline programs going. It is no small task.

One of the pipeline programs, First Wave, is going through a makeover.

“We’re hitting reset on a few things with First Wave,” Sims said. “We
agreed to take a step back and pause for a second in order to take a
more informed step forward. We still want that kind of engagement like