Cardinal View: UW System lacks transparency, action on diversity
Members of BlackOut attended the Dec. 11 Board of Regents meeting to present diversity demands.
Students on college campuses across the nation have been protesting to hold their administrators accountable for evaluating diversity and making a genuine effort to improve the experience of students of color. Although UW System administration has recognized the necessity of student voice, and UW System President Ray Cross has met with student protesters, these positive steps have been clouded by miscommunication and a lack of tangible action.
BlackOut, a student movement formed by organizers of the November march in solidarity with University of Missouri students, has expanded from just UW-Madison students to a system-wide movement with the support of the United Council of UW Students. Protesters organized by BlackOut attended the Dec. 11 Board of Regents meeting with the intent of presenting their five demands regarding diversity.
Protesting the free speech resolution—a reaffirmation of freedom of expression passed by the Regents at the Dec. 11 meeting—was secondary to presenting their demands, which include:
1. Cross and Regent President Regina Millner publicly acknowledging the “failure of progress on diversity within the UW System.”
2. UW System creating and enforcing a mandatory “comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion curriculum” for students, faculty, staff, administration and Regents.
3. Re-evaluating Plan 2008 (an earlier diversity plan) and, if necessary, creating a new 10-year plan.
4. Forming a task force to evaluate “the experiences of students of color on each campus.”
5. Increasing funding and resources for “hiring mental health professionals, particularly those of color, boosting mental health outreach and programming across the UW System institutions.”
Students were not allowed to speak at the Dec. 11 meeting, yet Board of Regents meetings were described by UW System spokesperson Alex Hummel as public, where people can express themselves “as long as they do it in proper form.”
Tyriek Mack, United Council multicultural issues chair and BlackOut leader, explained students had requested to speak well in advance of the December meeting, as well as in advance of the upcoming Feb. 5 meeting, but their request to speak Friday has already been denied.
This calls into question whether or not, as Hummel stated, “there’s a freedom of expression value here in the System, and that’s something that we’re all very deeply committed to.” The Regents have reaffirmed free speech with a resolution, but not necessarily through their treatment of protesters.
Closely linked to freedom of expression is transparency, which has been lacking in interactions between students and UW officials. Students organized a December meeting with Cross and Millner, which BlackOut canceled as a result of UW officials not allowing recording or media observation of the meeting, according to a Dec. 11 United Council release.
“Basically there’s just no accountability without there being a recording,” Mack stated, explaining students felt that they didn’t have any leverage in the situation.
Hummel said both students and the UW System expressed concerns about the change from the original conditions and that students decided to cancel the meeting, without directly answering the question of whether UW officials would not allow recording or media presence.
Although students spoke with Cross in a meeting Jan. 21, Millner was not present and both parties came out of the meeting with different interpretations of the results. United Council stated Cross “made a commitment to publicly apologize on behalf of UW System for its inability to support an environment for underrepresented students that is fully inclusive to their mental health, educational, and student organizational needs” in a Jan. 21 release.
Contrary to this, Hummel said, “No, I wouldn’t characterize it as an apology. I think [Cross] wants to craft something that talks more about not just the things we’ve accomplished in terms of diversity and inclusiveness throughout the UW System, but most importantly the things that we’ve just simply not yet accomplished.”
Regarding this discrepancy in understanding, Mack said, “We see it as an apology, but however he characterizes it, we haven’t seen that letter … we have people who are actively communicating with the UW System, but our main focus is seeing tangible results to the demands that we presented.”
Besides this semantic confusion and disconnect between promises and actions, another contradiction exists in the different perceptions of the demands presented. Hummel described the demands as a framework for discussion, while Mack explained, “We take them quite literally. We think that the conversations have already existed, the conversations have been happening … We will engage in dialogue with officials, however our main priority is actually seeing results from the demands that we’ve presented already.”
Mack went on to say, “Student voice is really very powerful … we will be trying to hold the Regents and Chancellors of all the [UW] campuses accountable for making the experiences of students of color, and white students, better.”
Both the UW System and student activists have expressed a willingness to work on the issue of diversity, with Hummel stressing the need to be “as thoughtful and inclusive as possible when it comes to engaging students, in a very important conversation.” However, there needs to be transparency and clarity going forward in order to create meaningful change; media observation and recordings should be unquestioned means of holding administrators accountable. Students need to be more involved rather than voiceless at public meetings, because, as stated by Hummel, “President Cross impressed upon them that he needs their help.” The diversity conversation has been going on for a long time, and it’s time to see some substantive results.
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