Over a decade ago Plan 2008 was implemented to place an emphasis on increasing diversity at UW-Madison. The plan targeted American Indian, black, Hispanic and Southeast Asian-American students at an early age to give them structure and motivation, primarily through PEOPLE (Pre-College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence). However, the plan's sentiments were undercut a few years later when the university was embarrassed by the cover of an undergraduate magazine that had a black student pasted in to create the appearance of diversity. The university found out quickly that Photoshop is not a proper substitute for actual minorities on campus.
Similarly, following the release of mildly increasing numbers among minorities on campus in first-year retention rates and six-year graduation rates, The Daily Cardinal broke news of decreased graduation rates among participants in minority programs such as Posse and PEOPLE. PEOPLE's four-year graduation rate dropped from 18.9 percent to 9.8 percent, and Posse's percentage dropped to 4.3 from 43.5.
To be clear, two things must be remembered when considering these facts. First, the percentages can exaggerate the numbers because member counts are not large statistically speaking (ironically a problem in itself), and second, PEOPLE was planned to gauge numbers on a five-year graduation plan. That said, with these numbers, UW-Madison still looks about as diverse as an Osmonds reunion. With such low standards to begin with and a 10-year plan to give the university plenty of time to ensure higher standards, it is disappointing to say the least.
Our editorial board met with ASM Diversity Committee Chair Steven Olikara to discuss the direction of UW-Madison's diversity efforts. He focused on the thematic shift behind Inclusive Excellence. We were pleased with the basics of the idea and with his conviction. The university is trying not to focus on concrete numbers, but instead on both getting more minorities on campus through K-12 outreach programs and giving them a face and niche on campus. He pointed to existing programs, such as Posse, as a good starting point while acknowledging the tendency of these programs to keep their respective demographics insulated from campus. The other half of Inclusive Excellence focuses on the necessity of diversity on campus for enhancing the overall value of UW-Madison educational experience, but pointing out the inherent value of diversity doesn't really get us anywhere.
What has not come out of this new concept are plans of action. We agree that the emphasis should steer clear of setting numerical goals and standards, which only encourages superficial solutions. But as the results of Plan 2008, or lack thereof, are currently reflected upon, our recent talks with both Chancellor Biddy Martin and Olikara left us wanting.
This is a crucial period of reflection and planning for vice provost on diversity and climate Damon Williams, as well as the university's diversity programs. We cannot remain excited at the mere prospect of improvement. As Williams spearheads the university's next initiatives in the coming months, we will be looking for innovative steps involving not just K-12 prep, but also aiming to bolster on-campus programs.
A lack of diversity at UW-Madison has been an embarrassing stereotype for far too long. And the release of the latest figures proves it has not been addressed effectively yet. Don't bother with a strict timetable, throw percentages in the trash, admit to failures of the past and use them to answer the discomfited question of diversity in a humanistic way that addresses everything from the structure of our campus to nightlife around town. Maybe then we can share in the enthusiasm.