Campus News

Students file hate and bias report for ‘insensitive’ test question on statistics exam

Three engineering students filed a hate and bias report against their statistics professor for a question depicting kangaroos jumping the U.S.-Mexico border.

Image By: Creative Commons-Tim Lewis

While taking an exam, three UW-Madison students answered a question by filing a hate and bias report against their professor.

Mexican-American students Esmeralda Tovar, Alan Meza and Cesar Andrez Aguilar filed the incident report in response to the following statistics exam question:

“The federal government plans to build a wall with height 6.5 feet along the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent kangaroos from jumping into the country. The project manager wants to know how high the kangaroos can jump. Ten kangaroos are randomly selected and each of them is tested for the jump heights…”

The three students were shocked after reading the second question of the Statistics 224 exam. Meza said he felt disrespected and considered walking out of the class.

“I read the question, and my first instinct was disbelief,” Meza said. “I couldn’t believe it. I was in disbelief that I was seeing something like this on an exam, and they were referring to a race of people as kangaroos.”

The controversial question was used in a course comprised of three sections, each led by a different instructor. The exam was not reviewed or approved by the department, and each instructor is responsible for developing his own exam, according to Department of Statistics Chair Yazhen Wang.

Although the statistics department as a whole did not approve or write the question, Wang said the department regrets the incident and hopes to continue to talk with the affected students.

“I am thankful to these students for coming forward and raising the issue,” Wang said in a statement. “We understand why this has been viewed as insensitive and deeply regret that it occurred. The instructors have apologized, and I am working with them to engage in further dialogue with the students involved.”

The students acknowledged the apology made by the class professors, but do not think an apology is enough to make an impact.

“My professor gave out a quick apology during lecture, [but] an incident like this should be something that is given more time,” Meza said. “[The apology] won’t have an effect because most people in class did not see anything wrong with [the question]. People are not aware of injustices like these.”

Instead of an apology, Meza said he thinks that something needs to be done at the administrative level.

“I think that a public statement, not necessarily just to the class, would be helpful because it shows that they understand that they made a mistake and they owned up to it,” Meza said. “It helps other people realize the incidents that are happening in the classroom. This issue goes further than Stats 224.”

The three students have arranged for a meeting with professors from the department Friday.

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